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Is Boston.com The Jewel In The Globe's Crown?02:05
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There’s a clip on YouTube with two comedians promoting a show in Boston. In it, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal joke about going in halfsies on the Boston Globe — for just $400.

"None of the debts," Mirman says nonchalantly. "None of that stuff, just the name, some of the equipment, maybe the building."

"Maybe the dot.com," Schaal adds, "we could buy that domain."

The Boston Globe up for sale may lend itself to comic relief. Some people, though, might be dead serious about buying Boston.com.

"I will buy the Boston Globe to get Boston.com," said Paul Gillen, a Framingham author who runs the Web site newspaperdeathwatch.com. "By looking at the Globe as the liability that you have to acquire in order to get that jewel in the crown."

Gillen isn’t really in the market for the Web property. But he said if he were buying the Boston Globe, he would scrap most of the paper and focus on the Web site.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities for a site like that to monetize its business," Gillen said. "But when you’ve still got the Globe running it, it’s still stuck in this newspaper mentality. And that’s what I’d try to get rid of."

To understand why Gillen sees Boston.com as a rising star, you just have to look at recent numbers. Over a one-year period, unique visitors to the site soared 37 percent — to 6.6 million. Nielsen ranks Boston.com the sixth biggest newspaper Web site in the country.

Boston.com ranks high among newspaper web sites nationally.
Boston.com ranks high among newspaper web sites nationally.

So the question becomes, is the Globe’s Web site more valuable than the Globe?

WBUR Senior Media Analyst John Carroll said no. "The fate of Boston.com is very much tied in with the fate of the newspaper," Carroll said. "What resources the newspaper has is going to dictate what kind of content Boston.com has."

That’s certainly the case now. The Globe’s Web property has been developing new town-based sites to which users can contribute. But Boston.com still gets loads of content from the newspaper’s ranks of journalists. Carroll said the online version would only be a shell of itself without the paper version.

"You can have the online, but it's not going to be what it was," he said. "It’s not going to have the value, the depth, the range of content that it has now. The more you slice away from the newspaper, you slice away from Boston.com."

Gina Maniscalco agreed. She helped found Boston.com. Maniscalco said to ensure the future of the Web site, you first have to solve the newspaper business model problem.

"Therein is the conundrum," she laughed. "Content is really still king. And you have to get it from somewhere. And you have to pay for it. Somebody has to pay for it."

That would be the challenge facing a potential buyer of the Boston Globe. Still, Paul Gillen of newspaperdeathwatch.com said don’t be surprised if a new owner makes the Web domain a bigger part of the Globe’s picture.

"How could the Boston Globe better support Boston.com — which is the future — while still making enough money in its own right?" he asked. "That’s how I would approach the business."

At least that’s an option for any buyer. The Globe can count itself lucky that it even has a strong Web presence at a time when more people are going there for news.

This program aired on June 30, 2009.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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