Did you know that a non-discounted, seven-day home-delivery subscription to the print edition of The Boston Globe now costs $2,340 a year? I didn’t. I should have — it’s right there in plain sight every day on the second page of the metro section, right below “New England in Brief”: $45 a week. We made the switch to digital some time ago, but I flip through the e-paper most days. It was Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood who called my attention to it when I asked what the price was these days.
“We have a deep appreciation for the support of our home delivery subscribers that enable us to continue to produce and invest in award winning journalism,” she said by email.
The reason this came up is that a friend from Boston Phoenix days who lives in the suburbs wanted to know why the cost of her subscription had gone up so much. As recently as December, she’d been paying $1,665.60 a year, which struck me as awfully high; the last I’d known, the top price was somewhere between $1,400 and $1,500. Then she received an email from the Globe informing her that the cost would be going up another $5.70 a week, bringing the price to $1,962 per year. Her next step was to call customer service. She was told that the price should actually be $2,100 — but that he could get it down to $1,955. Such a deal!
I asked around on Facebook and Mastodon and got prices that were all over the place, though no one reported paying $2,340. A woman who lives just outside Boston (another Phoenix alum, as it turns out) told me she was paying $1,449.60 a year, which was more in line with what I thought the top price was. Several people were getting a senior discount which, depending on who I asked, meant that they were paying $884 or $1,046.20.
I also found out that the listed non-discounted price has risen a lot over the past few years. As recently as December, the top price was $1,976. In February 2020, it was $1,560. In January 2015, which is as far back as the e-paper archives go, it was $727.28. That means the cost has gone up by 189% over the past seven years.
Now, we’ve long known that the Globe charges more for print and digital subscriptions than just about any daily paper in the country. I think the top digital-only rate of about $30 a month —$1 a day — is reasonable, and that the Globe provides a lot of value. After all, we’re deep into the post-advertising age, and someone has to pick up the cost. But the price of a print subscription is ludicrously high, and I honestly don’t know how anyone can afford it. It also doesn’t help that the actual prices that people pay are all over the place.
You often hear that the print price is way too high for seniors, and that they’re the very group that doesn’t want to read the paper online. “I think of all the older people who still like print and probably won’t adapt well to digital,” my friend told me. Well, I have a suggestion. I’d argue that those of us who are in the 65-to-74 age bracket are either comfortable with digital, can afford print or both. But what about those who are 75 and older? Those are the folks who probably could use some help. Why not sell seven-day print to them at a loss as a goodwill gesture?
Finally, there’s the question of what the Globe is really up to with its print edition. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, the Globe’s paid print circulation in September 2022 (the most recent figures available) was about 64,000 on weekdays and 112,000 on Sundays. Digital was about 282,000 on weekdays and 298,000 on Sundays. That’s quite a change from March 2020, when print was 93,000 (159,000 on Sundays) and digital was 158,000 on weekdays (155,000 on Sundays.) Obviously readers are switching from print to digital in the tens of thousands. The Globe is also picking up a lot of new digital-only subscribers, which is why they’ve been able to keep growing while other news organizations are cutting their newsrooms.
(Note: I’m using the AAM’s figures for digital replica and nonreplica and adding them together. These are somewhat mysterious numbers that are quite a bit higher than the Globe’s own numbers for digital-only subscribers, but I’m using them because they’re publicly reported and I can make apples-to-apples comparisons.)
As I wrote recently after the Globe lost its contract to print The New York Times, you have to wonder what the eventual goal is. They’re not going to end the print edition anytime soon — not with the prices they’re charging. But are they seeking some magic number that hits their revenue targets while allowing them to outsource the printing so that they can close their 5-year-old Taunton plant? That’s pure speculation on my part. At a certain point, though, you have to wonder if it makes sense for the Globe do it their own printing.