The New York Times Final Surrender: Boston Globe Sale

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The Boston Globe is barely there anymore. Its circulation has fallen so far that it is below those of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Honolulu Star Advertiser. And Boston, the home to one of the most educated urban populations in the world, is no longer an environment that can support a daily newspaper. Its parent company, The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), publisher of the most admired local newspaper in the nation, could not muster the wherewithal to salvage its little sister. The newspaper industry, long in disarray, has surrendered on of its last stars to effective insolvency.

The Times has put the Globe on the market, and media reports claim it will sell for as little as $100 million. That figure seems high, based on the Globe’s performance. What the Times calls its New England Media Group, made up mostly of the Globe, had total revenue of $85.3 million last quarter. Advertising sales dropped 10.1% to $37.6 million.

When media experts look at what is wrong with the Globe’s picture, what stands out is its inability to show circulation revenue growth. This segment of revenue continues to rise at The New York Times itself, and has effectively offset a drop in ad sales. What these numbers prove is that the Times is prized enough by readers that they will pay for online additions. That is not true of any other paper in the nation, except The Wall Street Journal. The “paywall” experiment did not work in Boston. The Globe’s readers would not pay for the online version in great enough numbers to save the floundering medium. One of the highest quality newspapers in America basically was abandoned by its readers.

The lesson of the demise of the Globe tells something about other large metro dailies. Readers will not consider these valuable enough to pay for online versions, which means their futures are limited. The latest large paper to try the online paid model is the Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO), which has started a program for its flagship paper. The effort is guaranteed to fail. As has been pointed out repeatedly, readers find their information elsewhere, at least in large enough numbers to rob daily newspapers of revenue to the point where they cannot sustain themselves.

The observation that daily newspapers are dying is very old. But there had been hope that, with the end of the recession, the industry would stabilize and have time to create a successful model. It has had that time, and nothing has emerged.

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