The New York Times provides a summary of Boston Globe circulation for 1998 through 2010, listing weekday, Sunday and digital subscriptions for the last weeks of March and September in each year. A former news manager for Gannett newspapers posted the Audit Bureau of Circulations report for March, 2012, including data for March, 2011. Several other observers posted data for September, 2011 and 2012. From those sources, one can estimate total average Boston Globe circulation, year-by-year, for 1998 through 2012.
Year . . . Circulation*
1998 . . . 504,174
1999 . . . 492,993
2000 . . . 492,814
2001 . . . 483,345
2002 . . . 477,901
2003 . . . 456,482
2004 . . . 441,063
2005 . . . 421,236
2006 . . . 396,476
2007 . . . 375,845
2008 . . . 344,504
2009 . . . 298,215
2010 . . . 240,590
2011 . . . 233,412
2012 . . . 248,075
* average numbers of paid print copies plus digital subscriptions, per calendar day
These results come from (6 * daily avg. Mar. + 6 * daily avg. Sep. + Sun. avg. Mar. + Sun. avg. Sep.) / 14. The numbers do not include "other"--really meaning free--distribution, as reported by the New York Times.
Plotting the average circulation per calendar day as a chart, using a spreadsheet, helps to see trends. By 1998, the Globe was experiencing slow decline in circulation, about 1.3 percent per year from 1998 through 2002. After 2002, the decline rapidly accelerated. Starting from a base in 1998 of about 500,000 copies per calendar day, it took 8 years--until 2006--to lose the first 100,000. It took only 3 more years---until 2009--to lose the next 100,000. If the trend through 2010 had continued, circulation would have dropped to zero--that is, to complete collapse--by some time in 2013.
The main cause of the rapid decline was clearly increasing popularity of reading newspapers via Internet rather than on paper. Like most other U.S. newspapers, the Globe was publishing nearly all its editorial content without charge on a Web site, boston.com. An "electronic edition," requiring special software, did not prove popular, selling only about 5,000 digital subscriptions as of March, 2010.
In late 2011, the Globe began to publish much of its unique, self-generated content on a different Web site, bostonglobe.com, charging subscription fees of about $200 per year, when 7-day home delivery cost around $700 per year. It continued to publish wire-service stories, health-care news, Web logs, user forums and a few of its self-generated stories and columns on the boston.com site without charge. By March, 2012, digital subscriptions had climbed to about 32,000. Also over the two years from March, 2010, to March, 2012, decline in print subscriptions slowed to a 12 percent loss for weekdays, or a drop of about 25,000 copies.
While forthcoming data from March, 2013, will be interesting, the Globe's achievements are already clear. Data suggest that instead of cancelling, many print subscribers were converting to digital subscriptions, while the Globe also began to gain some newer subscribers or perhaps regain older ones. Overall, the Globe managed to stabilize paid circulation, but its total subscription fees and single-copy revenues obviously continue to fall, since digital subscriptions earn much less than print subscriptions and single copies.
Expenses of distributing printed media are considerably higher than those for electronic media, but all the Globe can quickly save comes from reduction in its orders for paper and ink. It will be more difficult to reduce labor, process and transportation costs, since press runs still have to be set up, conducted and delivered. The Globe's former economies of scale for distributing printed editions have now reversed, as largely fixed costs of equipment and processes must be spread over shrinking markets. An obvious treatment, already adopted elsewhere, would be to cut back from 7 to perhaps 3 print editions per week.