The Boston Globe is set to implement its new subscription model, which will cost $3.99 a week for a digital-only subscription, and all print subscribers will get full digital access. The editor of the Globe, Marty Baron, made a visit to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism this week to discuss with students the changing newspaper industry, but first he sat down with CJR’s Alysia Santo for a brief discussion.
Did you ever anticipate, as an editor, that your role would be so focused on the business side?
When I was writing my remarks for my presentation today, I was struck when I finished: it’s almost all about business strategy. That’s kind of a new role for editors, and now it’s a huge part of our job. We work with all the other operations of the company—digital, circulation, advertising. But the most important part of our job is the actual quality of the journalism that we do because the success of our operation depends entirely on the quality of our journalism.
Just before I walked in, I looked into the café that’s right next to the journalism school, and there was not one newspaper in sight. Everybody was on a laptop or iPod or cell phone. That was very telling about the industry and the direction that we have to go.
Our aim is to be at the leading edge of what’s happening in the digital transformation, while putting out a very high quality print product. We have made video a very big part of our operation, and we’re actually a finalist for an Emmy award for online video. Three years ago I would never have anticipated anything like that.
How do you convince a reader who is used to getting something for free that he should pay? How do you affix a monetary value to the journalism?
There are going to be some people who won’t pay, and we recognize that. The core of our strategy is that we intend to be two brands, with two sites. Boston.com will be free and BostonGlobe.com will be subscription.
We were evaluating the possibility of some sort of pay model for Boston.com and in analyzing our user base we saw that there were two different kinds of users. One was a group of very casual users, essentially snackers, people who looked at headlines—they may have looked at classified, they looked through photo galleries. They were very cursory readers of the site but they checked in a lot throughout the day.
There was this other group, and they were people who went to the site to really read the Boston Globe’s journalism. And when you analyze them, they were essentially two different kinds of people, with two different sets of inclinations or willingness to pay. So people who were snackers were pretty much not willing to pay. And people who were deeper readers understood that this required an investment on our part, that there was real value there, and that somehow it needed to be paid for, and they were more receptive to the idea of paying for that information.
In fact about half the people who were using Boston.com didn’t even know it was owned by the Boston Globe. So based on that observation, and research, and internal testing of that concept, we launched this strategy.
The other thing we’re offering is the experience you’re going to have. One of the things I point out to people is, when they buy a car they don’t just buy it to get them safely from point A to B. They might buy one over another because it’s more luxurious, it’s smoother, it’s more comfortable, it conforms to their self-image. We as an industry have tended to treat everybody essentially as if they’re all the same, as if they all have the same experience. That may be unique to our industry, I’m not sure, but that’s certainly not common in industry as a whole. If we can provide a superior experience, we think that will be a major attraction.