THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Scot Lehigh

Many say they'd pay for the Globe online

By Scot Lehigh
April 10, 2009
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THANKS, Globe readers. On Wednesday I asked you to weigh in about the plight of the paper - and did you ever. Hundreds upon hundreds of you e-mailed me, while scores more offered their comments on Boston.com.

Your notes were overwhelmingly supportive of the Globe. Although I haven't had a chance to respond to everyone, I truly appreciate the time and thought you gave the matter - and I'll pass your suggestions along to others at the paper.

The comments posted on the website, though encouraging, weren't quite as favorable. Some critics seemed to be off on a merry snark lark. Others, intent on a paper-specific interpretation of an industry-wide business-model problem, insist we've driven away droves of readers - a critique that conveniently ignores the large readership Boston.com has attracted.

So what did I learn? For many of you, reading the Globe with your morning coffee is a cherished part of your day. You enjoy the look, presentation, and feel of the newspaper, the element of discovery, even the sound of the turning pages. Many related the long decades you have subscribed. We're lucky to have you - and we're truly in your debt.

Yours is not a blind devotion, of course; not even the Red Sox enjoy that, after all. You're concerned about the changes tough times have forced on the Globe. You don't think the paper is as good or comprehensive or ambitious as it used to be. Yet you still believe the Globe performs a critical function as information-provider, investigator, watchdog, and guide.

I haven't done a tabulation of all the responses, but several strong themes run through your notes. I was surprised by how many subscribers said they'd pay more - some substantially more - for home delivery if it would help save the paper.

Joe Lawless of Beverly, who delivered the Globe in West Somerville back in the 1930s, when it cost two cents, called me to deliver this message: "I would be willing to pay additional money for the paper and also an additional charge for delivery, as long as the paper person gets a few cents." Although I didn't suggest this, many print subscribers said they'd pay for visiting Boston.com too if that would help. Now, that's dedication.

But subscribers to the newspaper itself also felt strongly that nonsubscribers who read the online product should pony up.

"Internet readers of the Globe should pay for it as we subscribers do," said Putnam B. McDowell of Westwood.

Some nonsubscribers flatly declared they wouldn't pay for Boston.com. "I don't pay for anything on the Web, not even porn," noted T.J. Kimball of Vermont.

Many more said they would, however.

"I would certainly be willing to pay for the ability to read the Globe online," wrote Kathy MacKenzie of Abington. "Frankly I'm surprised it has been available free of charge for so long now." Another daily reader of Boston.com, Patrick Ganz of Greenland, N.H., said home delivery didn't make sense for him, but that he would "gladly pay $10-$12/month" for a website subscription.

That range seemed to be a consensus on a fair price, though some said lower. As to method of payment, you had a clear preference for a monthly (or even yearly) online subscription. The idea of micropayments was considerably less popular. One far-sighted reader worried that such a system might lead to headlines that overhyped stories. Offer both options, said others.

Some said they'd pay for Boston.com even if the system was voluntary, while doubting others would. "Too many cheapskates out there," wrote Paul Finnegan of Boston.

The Globe should become a nonprofit, several suggested. Others think Internet service providers should offer access to a number of news sites, similar to the way cable TV does with channels, in return for a fee split among those sites.

Here's my conclusion. Our print subscribers are strongly behind us - and full of ideas and passion for the paper. Many online readers, meanwhile, are enthusiastic about the value of Boston.com - and willing to pay for it.

It's time we gave them the chance.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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