The incredible shrinking free daily

New Metro metrics
By ADAM REILLY  |  April 2, 2008

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This past November, Metro Boston proudly announced that it had surpassed the Boston Herald and become Boston’s second-largest daily newspaper, with an average circulation of almost 187,000, according to the Certified Audit of Circulations (CAC). “The increase in circulation validates what we have seen around the globe, that the free daily newspaper model is the future of the industry,” said Stuart Layne, Metro Boston’s publisher, in a celebratory press release at the time. “People are consuming the news very differently than previous generations, and these numbers are proof the newspaper landscape in Boston has changed.”

In retrospect, Layne’s triumphalism may have been a bit premature. According to a CAC report published two weeks ago, a copy of which was recently obtained by the Phoenix, Metro Boston’s average circulation for the quarter ending September 30, 2007, plummeted to 135,888. This represented a drop of more than 51,000 papers per day, or around 27 percent.

Fret not, says Metro Boston marketing director Tracy Carracedo, because even newer CAC figures — for the fourth quarter of 2007 — show that the paper’s circulation has bounced back up to 170,000. “Metro is committed to printing a quality product every day,” says Carracedo via e-mail, “and we are putting new technologies to work to make the product better and stronger.”

Be that as it may, this has been a rocky stretch for Metro Boston. In the last quarter of 2006, the New York Times Company, which owns a 49 percent stake in the paper (and also publishes the Globe), wrote down the value of its share from $16.5 million to $9.4 million. In early January, the Phoenix reported that Metro International was shopping Metro Boston and its two other US papers, Metro New York and Metro Philadelphia. The Metro Boston staff has been shaken up, too, with Layne resigning in late January and editor Saul Williams departing in early January.

Given the intense competition for readers and advertising dollars in today’s media market — and the continuing convergence of all types of media content — Metro Boston’s drop-off from this past year’s high point is good news for a bunch of its competitors. But it’s especially welcome at the Herald, which, even with the Metro-favorable numbers — and even taking the malleable nature of circulation totals into account — once again gets to call itself Boston’s second-biggest daily. In an interview with Boston magazine, conducted before the latest figures were released, Herald editor Kevin Convey was more than happy to bring the schadenfreude. “I would tell you this much with certainty,” boasted Convey. “If economics were ever to permit us to go free, we would give away one hell of a lot more papers than the Metro has managed to do during its lifetime.”

The other party that benefits most from Metro Boston’s struggles, of course, is Boston Now, the free commuter daily that launched this past spring under the guidance of Russel Pergament, the voluble former Metro Boston publisher. Pergament declined comment for this story. But you can safely assume that, when it comes to Metro Boston’s setbacks, he’s at least as pleased as Convey.

On the Web
Adam Reilly's Media Log: http://www.thephoenix.com/medialog

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  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Russel Pergament, Saul Williams
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