On Tuesday, Boston Globe publisher John Henry apologized to subscribers for the home delivery debacle they experienced over the previous week or so. According to Boston.com, delivery problems with The Globe’s new circulation service impacted as many as 10% of subscribers, or tens of thousands of subscribers.
“First, I want to personally apologize to every Boston Globe subscriber who has been inconvenienced. We recognize that you depend on us, and that we’ve let you down. We’re working around the clock on a variety of fronts to solve this. To that end, I also want to thank everyone at the Globe who pitched in to get some 20,000 Sunday papers delivered last weekend,” Henry said.
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In Henry’s apology, he outlined the problem, starting with when he purchased the newspaper two years ago. At that time, more than half of The Globe’s subscribers who opted not to renew their subscriptions did so because of delivery service issues. Henry vowed to make that one of his top priorities.
To that end, The Globe hired ACI Media Group, who offered better, cheaper delivery, to take over the job. The company began delivery of newspapers on December 28, with disastrous results. One of the key problems, Henry said, was the software that ACI Media Group was using to plan routes.
“The routes that software plotted were so circuitous and inefficient that newly hired drivers quit after only one or two days – our staff ultimately volunteered to jump in to help. ACI has already begun the process to replace that software,” Henry explained.
Boston.com reported that The Globe’s CEO Mike Sheehan wasn’t aware that there were delivery problems.
“Ten percent of our people not getting papers?” he said. “That was never communicated to us. That goes far beyond any reasonable definition of disruption.”
Bostom.com also reported that ACI executive Jack Klunder told The Globe that service disruptions could occur for the next four to six months.
“We were adamant that these guys communicate to the readers early and often about the disruption that would take place,” Klunder said. “We were pretty clear about that and I’m not sure the communication plan was as graphic as I suggested it should be.”
In a January 4 tweet, David Uberti (@DavidUberti) said Boston Globe CEO Mike Sheehan said home delivery would return to normal in 30 to 45 days.
John Henry and The Globe have vowed to fix the delivery debacle. They’ve started by partnering with their former distributor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment Inc. Publishers Circulation Fulfillment and ACI will each be responsible for about half of The Globe’s home deliveries. They believe that having two newspaper distribution firms in the region will benefit subscribers.
“Subscription revenue is going to be the primary source of revenue in the future for newspapers. It will make or break journalism in this country as we know it. That’s what makes this past week so frustrating. Many of the people who support journalism in this region have been slapped in the face simply trying to get their daily newspaper. Some will give up on us as a result,” said Henry.
“I’ve also seen, however, a New England spirit here in the past 15 years of steely resolve no matter the wait. I hope you will have the patience now to bear with us as we iron out this integral part of our business,” he added.”
It seems like the delivery problems could have been avoided altogether, and we can understand why subscribers would be angry that the Boston Globe didn’t honor what seems like a simple commitment – home delivery. It seems like poor communication between The Globe and ACI could have avoided a lot of the concerns. Perhaps more planning up front could have also helped.
To his credit, however, Henry did about the only thing he could do – issue an open, honest apology to subscribers, admitting to the mistake and explaining how it happened. He didn’t blame ACI, but rather the system that was in place. He took responsibility for the problem and vowed to make fixing it a priority.
Dan Kennedy of WGBH does a great job of looking at the positive side of the situation in “Five Takeaways from John Henry’s Apology and the Likely End of The Globe’s Crisis.” Kennedy pointed out that print still matters, and people really care about their newspapers. That’s refreshing to hear in a time where people inside and outside the industry constantly claim that “print is dead.” This situation shows that isn’t true.
It also shows us that subscribers matter, and we need to serve them to the best of our ability each and every day. And when we screw up, we need to admit it and then move heaven and earth to correct the problem.