Globe considers adding second delivery firm
Boston Globe officials are discussing a plan to divide the newspaper’s distribution duties in Greater Boston, bringing in a second company after ACI Media Group failed to deliver tens of thousands of papers in its first week on the job.
“We’re considering all options and that option is at the top of the list,” Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan said Monday in an interview.
He declined to provide further details.
The Globe is seeking to fix an embarrassing and potentially expensive debacle that so angered readers last week that the company’s phone lines were sometimes overwhelmed by complaints.
ACI has said that up to 10 percent of subscribers received no paper on the worst day last week. On Monday, several Globe truck drivers who typically bring bundles of papers to retail shops were called in to deliver directly to readers who hadn’t received their papers. Still, about 5 percent of daily subscribers, or nearly 6,000 homes, did not receive papers, according to ACI data.
Globe executives said they could not independently verify all of ACI’s numbers.
ACI did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Sheehan has said the biggest problem areas for ACI have been those served by distribution centers in Newton and Pembroke. He said he expects improvements as this week progresses, and more improvement next week.
The Globe already has existing partnerships with companies that could take over some deliveries in the Boston area, including Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, which was replaced by ACI on Dec. 28. Publishers Circulation Fulfillment continues to deliver the Globe in some areas farther from Boston, and delivers other publications within the Interstate 495 belt.
ACI officials acknowledged Sunday that after a week on the job they still did not have enough drivers to cover all the routes. The company said it was aggressively trying to hire more. ACI’s president and chief operating officer, Jack Klunder, faulted the Globe for not properly preparing its readers about the disruptions that would come with the switch.
Globe executives pushed back, saying ACI never warned the paper that vast numbers of readers would go without service day after day under ACI’s watch.
This past Sunday, on the largest newspaper distribution day of the week, Globe staffers from news, advertising, and other departments volunteered to make deliveries on some of the unstaffed routes. Despite that effort thousands of newspapers went undelivered.
Sheehan has said the newspaper undertook the switch to ACI for cost savings and in an effort to reduce subscriber cancellations by improving service.
Subscribers continued to inundate the Globe with calls and e-mails Monday, with most just wanting papers that weren’t delivered, but some writing to say they wanted to cancel their subscriptions but couldn’t because the phone lines were jammed.
Newspaper circulation experts said that transitioning to a new delivery vendor is enormously difficult and takes careful advance planning.
Chip Danneker, vice president of circulation and distribution at the Dallas Morning News, helped oversee that publication’s consolidation of delivery operations in 2008.
Before the 2008 transition, ACI delivered a weekly ad mailer and a Spanish-language newspaper for the Dallas Morning News, though not the main paper. Danneker said his company ended its relationship with ACI after deciding to deliver those products with its new network instead, but insisted ACI was not fired for bad performance.
“We had around eight to 10 people and it took months of planning,” he said of the circulation transition. “The modeling of the delivery routes — figuring out how long it takes, how many deliveries per hour — that’s the majority of it.”
The transition in Dallas was rocky, Danneker said, but ultimately resulted in better service.
“We got knocked around real bad for a while, but we did come out of the tunnel,” he recalled. “After a few months, our complaints per 1,000 deliveries went down probably 20 percent” compared with the old system.
Rich Schnars, a circulation manager with 32 years’ experience at the Palm Beach Post, said ACI’s performance distributing the paper is fine. He said the Post did not go through a turbulent transition when ACI took over several years ago because the Post had already outsourced its distribution to a private company, which was then bought by ACI.
He has been following the troubles in Boston.
“The industry is watching to see what the Globe does here,” he said. “How are they going to get themselves out of this? It was done to save money. But they’re going to have to spend their way out of it.”