The Boston Globe is located at Exchange Place, 53 State St, Boston.
The Boston Globe’s digital subscriptions grew faster in the last quarter of 2019 than in any quarter in the past three years according to one key, publicly-available metric, while the decline in circulation of its printed paper has accelerated.
The Globe’s most recent filing with the Alliance for Audited Media, which covers the last three months of 2019, shows the paper’s number of digital nonreplica, paid circulation, “restricted access website” readers surged by more than 20,000 to 148,416 — a 15.8% increase in a single quarter and up 37.5% from the same period a year ago.
The annual rate of increase in 2019 was more than double the 16% it saw in 2018, and greater than the 27% rate of increase in 2017.
While news organizations vary in how they measure online subscriptions, and the Globe doesn’t share its internal numbers, the AAM's digital nonreplica, paid circulation, “restricted access website” number is likely very close to what the company uses internally, an AAM executive told the Business Journal in 2018.
The Globe did not answer specific questions about how it tracks digital subscriptions. “We have been focused on growing our digital subscriber base over the last several years. Our newsroom, which remains the largest in New England, continues to produce original content that holds great value for our subscriber community,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
By comparison, the New York Times Co., (NYSE: NYT), which once owned the Globe, had more than 3.5 million paid online subscribers as of last May.
The Globe’s digital circulation has been the envy of regional daily newspapers nationwide in the past couple of years. It was one of the first papers in the nation to have more online subscribers than print ones last year.
The Globe has also raised its print prices to as much as $1,300 a year for some weekday subscribers, which may have accelerated the switch from print to digital. Some have even speculated that forcing readers to switch to online-only, thereby saving the business money, may be an intentional strategy. The Globe’s number of weekday print subscribers fell by 15%, to 92,818, over the course of 2019. That’s faster than the 10% rate of decline in both of the two previous years.
It’s also the case that Globe owner John Henry, who built a whole new printing plant in Taunton in 2017 hoping to save money and earn extra revenue, appears to be trying to outsource some of the work being done there. As of last month, negotiations on more than 100 planned layoffs in the Taunton mailroom were still ongoing, according to union officials.
The Globe declined to say whether its recent price increases are tied to the digital increases.
“I don't think the Globe is looking to kill off its print edition any sooner than necessary. Rather, I think its print strategy is to get as much money as it can for as long as it can out of people who are willing to pay a premium,” Kennedy said in an email. “At $1,300 a year for some customers, print must be fairly lucrative for the Globe, even as the overall number of print subscribers continue to shrink. Why wouldn't they want to keep that going?”
The climbing online circulation numbers have likely been helped by generous introductory discounts the Globe has offered in recent months to new online subscribers. It’s also a good bet that the Globe’s expansion to cover Rhode Island, which started last summer, opened up a whole new market of potential subscribers, boosting its numbers.
Kennedy said the newspaper “seems to have reached a tipping point” in terms of new online subscribers.
“Without seeing a further breakdown of numbers, it's hard to know exactly why the Globe is doing so well on the digital side, but it's probably some combination of the high and rising cost of a print subscription; ongoing improvements to the Globe's digital products … and an influx of new customers who are taking advantage of steep discounts, and who may or may not stay once those discounts expire,” Kennedy said.