The Globe’s responsibility to this community is to bring it the news. I would like to share some news now about why we have failed to meet this objective for many readers over the past 10 days, how we are working to fix the problems, and a bit about the root causes.
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.
Getting a daily newspaper to your front door is a complicated exercise in logistics — this is something the Globe has been innovating in for more than 150 years. Our region is full of old houses, curvy roads, and hidden cul-de-sacs. It takes resources, people, and technology to bring a paper from our presses to you every day. That last mile relies on a team of dedicated delivery professionals who know just the spot where you like your paper placed, what your house looks like, the name of your dog.
I don’t think any of us who receive our daily newspapers think enough about what servicing such a route entails. One single person generally takes responsibility to see that our papers — even amid record snowfall — are delivered (frequently in the dark) 365 days a year. 365 nights really. Your carrier is, in fact, often the public face of our company.
The importance of this role is why, since joining the Globe, we have been determined to improve our delivery systems and customer service.
When I purchased the Globe two years ago, more than half the subscribers who were not renewing their subscriptions told us it was due to delivery service issues. Week after week, I reiterated that fixing this had to be one of our highest priorities. Before I arrived, the Globe had moved away from operating its own delivery service. That was a mistake.
Instead, the Globe instituted a somewhat expensive plan to try to remedy the reported problems. By the beginning of my second year it was apparent the service was not improving. So we began to look for an alternative delivery service.
We settled on ACI Media Group, generally recognized as the best in the business. The firm’s first bid not only contained the service improvements we were looking for but was substantially cheaper — more in line with other regions in the United States. We thought we’d found what we were looking for, but this overnight transition was much harder than anyone anticipated.
Until Globe staffers embarked on an effort to save more than 20,000 subscribers from missing their Sunday paper, we had underestimated what it would take to make this change. People want their paper every day in a particular place at a particular time. It might be 6 inches to the right of the first step.
One thing we did not underestimate, however, is the importance of routing. The new company initially used software that simply could not do the job. 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.
So where do we stand at this point? We have worked with both ACI and our former distributor to reestablish service in the fastest possible way by dividing the entire region between them. The firms are at this moment working together to manage routes and will have a roughly equivalent number of newspapers to deliver over the next three years. While it has been very painful to have daily service interrupted, I do believe this hurdle will ultimately reward everyone because there will be two newspaper distribution firms in the region.
With only one service provider in any industry, often services and costs are far from ideal for customers. In this case the customers are The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers. These papers will now have competitive services to choose from that will decrease costs and improve service.
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.
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.John W. Henry is the publisher of The Boston Globe.