The Boston Globe announced on Thursday that it will split its web content into two separate entities: Boston.com will remain a free source of daily news, sports, weather and entertainment; BostonGlobe.com will launch next year as a new subscription site, with more in-depth stories, graphics and commentary from the daily print edition.
Here’s how the Globe’s press release describes the halves of this “two-brand strategy”:
[Boston.com] will enable individuals with common interests to share ideas and experiences, and provide a convenient means of buying a range of goods and services…. BostonGlobe.com will offer a bold, elegant format that approximates the feel of a newspaper or magazine and allows the best possible experience for reading the Globe’s high-quality journalism. A subscription to BostonGlobe.com will be included for free as part of a print subscription to The Boston Globe.
In other words, the Globe hopes to attract two different kinds of readers looking for two different experiences—providing the best of both worlds and trying to cash in on both ad revenue and subscriptions.
So what do people think about this?
Bostonist ends its post on the Globe’s announcement with, “Depending on your perspective, this is good or bad.” Okay! For a little more in depth analysis, we’ll have to turn to former CJR staffer Megan Garber, now at Nieman Lab, who points out that “The obvious drawback of a site-bifurcation is that it gives you yet another hungry beast to feed.” But there’s a benefit, as well, Garber continues: “The double-down’s other potential payoff? A killer app that is, literally, an app…. You could read the site bifurcation…as a stepping-stone strategy: a way to help the Globe navigate toward a more tablet-centric world.”
Ken Doctor, another regular contributor to Neiman Lab, writes on his Newsonomics site that the Globe’s website split is a sign of what we’ll see from a lot of other news outlets, as well:
So the Globe takes the strategy much in preparation, most unannounced, at many newspaper companies. Overall, it’s an effort that says this: We need two strong revenue legs going forward into the murky mostly-digital future. Online ads themselves won’t bring in enough revenue to sustain us. In a way, it’s a back-to-the-future business model: advertising + circulation. The old model, in the U.S., was that 80% of revenue came from ads, 20% from circulation, and that brought in 20%+ profit margins for decades. Now, though, papers have been limping along, both print legs under continuing assault. And online, they could only hop on that single leg of digital advertising. Other than the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, no newspaper site has gotten much direct reader revenue.
The idea, then, in Boston, is to rebuild, over time, that strong two-legged business.
Doctor calls it a “retention and switch” strategy: retain the non-paying, high-traffic audience in the short term, and then switch them to a digitized subscription-based audience in the long term. Whether it works will depend, of course, on what Globe content goes where, and whether this content can compete with a growing number of sources of free content elsewhere.