METRO MARKET WATCH. There appears to be a lull in the Metro wars today, so I thought I'd take a closer look at what is likely to be the most enduring issue: the matter of whether the New York Times Company's acquisition of a 49 percent share of Boston's Metro constitutes a violation of antitrust laws.
Let me hasten to add that you won't find out the answer to that question here. Rather, I want to show that the Greater Boston newspaper market is a lot more complicated than either the Globe or the Herald has portrayed it so far.
According to reports, Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who has taken his antitrust complaint to the Justice Department, is defining the market as comprising three daily papers: the Globe, the Herald, and the Metro. Let's look at the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Because the Metro publishes only on weekdays, I'm only going to look at Monday-through-Friday numbers
- Globe: 451,471
- Herald: 240,759
- Metro: 180,000 (est.)
Under this formulation, the Globe controls 52 percent of the market; the Herald, 28 percent; and the Metro, 20 percent. Purcell notes that allowing the deal to move forward will give the Times Company 72 percent, which, he argues, violate guidelines governing anti-competitive behavior.
In fact, though, Purcell could paint the picture in broader strokes. If you consider the entire Eastern Massachusetts market, the Times Company also owns the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, whose weekday circulation is 103,113. Purcell's Community Newspaper subsidiary owns four daily papers with a total weekday circulation of 50,608: the MetroWest Daily News (Framingham), the Daily News Tribune (Waltham); the Daily News Transcript (Dedham); and the Milford Daily News. That gives Purcell's Herald Media a total daily circulation of 291,367.
(Note: the ABC report for the MetroWest Daily News appears to combine the other three dailies, but that's not entirely clear. Nevertheless, the 291,367 figure matches up closely with a total daily circulation figure that appears on page 12 of Herald Media's online media kit. PDF file here. So if I'm off, it's not by much.)
Let's run the numbers again. Under this formulation, the Times Company's weekday circulation (the Globe, the T&G, and the Metro) would be 734,584, or 72 percent of the total daily newspaper market. Herald Media would control 28 percent (the Herald plus the four suburban dailies). With that exercise, the numbers look exactly the same.
But wait. In statements filed with ABC, Purcell says that the paid circulation of his weekly papers is 233,679. On the Herald Media website, he claims a weekly circulation of 517,242. The lower figure would appear to be for his paid, community-based weeklies (there are 89, though some are free); the higher number apparently includes all of his weekly holdings, which also comprise 21 shoppers and specialty publications.
How do Purcell's weekly papers affect his antitrust argument? It's hard to say. To be sure, it's an apples-and-oranges comparison, but when you factor in the weeklies as part of Purcell's holdings, there's no question that the Times Company - though still dominant - doesn't look quite as fearsome. The weeklies are a big business for Purcell, with considerable economies of scale in terms of shared expenses and the cross-selling of advertising.
Now let's go a little deeper. In their public statements about the Metro deal, Times Company spokeswoman Catherine Mathis and Globe publisher Richard Gilman have referred to Greater Boston as the most competitive newspaper market in the country. Whether that's technically accurate or not, it is certainly true that there are more options here than in many parts of the country. Here, for instance, are a few ABC figures for other daily newspaper groups in Eastern Massachusetts:
- Ottaway Newspapers: the Standard-Times (New Bedford) and the Cape Cod Times; total weekday circulation, 85,313.
- South of Boston Media Group: the Patriot Ledger (Quincy) and the Enterprise (Brockton); total weekday circulation, 92,228.
- Eagle-Tribune Publishing: the Eagle-Tribune (Lawrence), the Salem News, the Daily News (Newburyport), and the Gloucester Daily Times; total weekday circulation, 105,524.
- MediaNews Group: the Sun (Lowell) and the Sentinel & Enterprise (Fitchburg); total weekday circulation, 67,151.
There are small, independently owned dailies sprinkled across Eastern Massachusetts as well. One, the Daily Evening Item (Lynn), whose circulation is 14,764, is a content partner with Herald Media through the paper's affiliation with Purcell's TownOnline.com. And some of the aforementioned newspaper owners are formidable. Ottaway, for instance, is part of the Dow Jones empire, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, in some ways the New York Times' archnemesis. MediaNews is a national chain headed by the colorful, notorious Dean Singleton. His flagship paper, the Denver Post, is edited by former Globe managing editor Greg Moore.
There's no question that the Times Company is the dominant media organization in New England, never mind Eastern Massachusetts. In addition to the Globe and the T&G, it owns a piece of New England Sports Network through its part-ownership of the Red Sox. The Globe is also a content partner with New England Cable News. Adding the local Metro to its portfolio will make the strong stronger.
Nevertheless, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this is far more complex than the tale of Boston's two dailies.