I visit the Boston area frequently. On my most recent visit I became aware that The Boston Globe was planning to switch its home-delivery vendor, and that the switch would take place beginning Monday, Dec. 28. The Globe sent a letter to all subscribers alerting them to the switch, and providing a new toll-free customer-service number and a new home-delivery URL. So far, so good (although everyone with whom I’ve had occasion to discuss this has questioned why the excellent delivery service they had been getting needed a change at all).
Fast-forward to early on the morning of Dec. 28: No paper delivered to my sister’s house, where I was staying. We decided to check the new website, and discovered a list of almost 100 Zip codes under the warning that “delays are expected Monday and Tuesday.” In other words, they knew in advance it was not going to go well. A call to the new toll-free number resulted in an automatic credit via an automated attendant. Again, like they were expecting it.
Tuesday was apparently no better — but remember, customers had been warned. Then Wednesday happened. The Globe hadn’t said anything about planning to screw up on Wednesday, but they did. Whole neighborhoods didn’t get delivery. Single-copy outlets quickly ran out. Wait times on the new toll-free line were reported to be up to two hours, and the new website was down completely. Finally, after a full day of Twitter outrage, an automated email tried to reassure customers that all would be sorted out by the end of the week, promising refunds and thanking everyone for their patience.
Here’s what puzzles me: Surely executives at The Globe are aware that people who subscribe to the print product really, really want the print product? And that these are the incredibly loyal people who allow the paper to command the market-draining print ad rates it charges? And that pissing these people off over so basic a product feature as on-time delivery is likely to be seen as an absolute betrayal of that loyalty, with the resulting downward pressure on those ad rates? What were they thinking, making so huge a change without redundancies and multiple backup plans?
This is a great object lesson to all newspapers (and all businesses, really) to make sure you have the fundamentals locked in. If you’re flailing around trying to execute essential production processes, you’re using up critical bandwidth that could be devoted to, oh, I don’t know, finding new revenue models, maybe?
But the fact that the outcry was so huge is also heartening: The newspaper is still an essential part of many people’s day. Despite media consumption having become so atomized, there are many people who still value the experience of looking into the same news mirror together. I hope The Globe realizes how valuable that is, and how big a role the newspaper still plays in knitting together a community (especially since at the same time as this is happening, The Globe is trying hard to capitalize on the goodwill engendered by the movie Spotlight), and gets this debacle sorted out soon. And if they don’t …