Circulation at Seattle's two daily newspapers continued to slip over the past year, mirroring an industrywide trend. The silver lining, if...




Circulation at Seattle’s two daily newspapers continued to slip over the past year, mirroring an industrywide trend.

The silver lining, if there is one: The declines at The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer since last spring are smaller than those of any of the three preceding years.

In The Times’ case, the drop was less than the industry average.

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Average weekday circulation at The Times for the six months ended March 31 was 219,722, down 0.5 percent from a year earlier, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported Monday.

P-I weekday circulation slid 2.9 percent, to 128,012.

Circulation of the Sunday newspaper, which bears the mastheads of both papers but whose content is produced almost entirely by The Times, declined 2.7 percent, to 423,635.

The separately owned papers have a joint-operating agreement (JOA) under which they maintain independent news operations while The Times handles the business side for both.

Seattle newspaper circulation

Still dropping, but not as fast

Seattle Times daily: 219,722, down 0.5 percent.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer daily: 128,012, down 2.9 percent.

Sunday: 423,635, down 2.7 percent

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations

Representatives of both dailies said the new numbers don’t reflect growth in their online readership. They also noted that circulation at many other metropolitan dailies declined more steeply.

“Falling numbers don’t make you happy,” said P-I Publisher Roger Oglesby. “But they’re falling less precipitously now than they have in the past.”

P-I circulation dropped 3 percent from 2003 to 2004, 4 percent from 2004 to 2005, and 9 percent from 2005 to 2006. The Times’ declines for those periods were 1 percent, 1.5 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

Average weekday circulation at the 745 U.S. newspapers whose performance was reported Monday slipped 2.1 percent year over year, according to the Newspaper Association of America, an industry group. Sunday circulation industrywide fell 3.1 percent, the association said.

With the exception of the Wenatchee World, every daily newspaper in Washington that provides circulation information to the Audit Bureau reported declines.

Weekday circulation fell 4.9 percent at The (Tacoma) News Tribune, 2.5 percent at The (Everett) Herald and 0.1 percent at the Kitsap Sun.

The new numbers indicate the declines at The Seattle Times and P-I would have been greater but for increased sales of deeply discounted papers.

In March 2006, the papers reported they sold an average 71 total weekday papers to individuals at less than 50 percent of full price.

In the new report, The Times reported a circulation of 2,946 in that category; the P-I, 1,472. Times spokeswoman Corey Digiacinto said the surge was the result of a fall subscription campaign.

Times Vice President Jill Mackie said both papers also benefited from closure of the Kent-based King County Journal in January. New home-delivery subscriptions in January and February were up 60 percent over the previous year, she said.

The family-controlled Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp., which owns the P-I, last month settled a four-year-old legal dispute in which Hearst had accused The Times of working for years to undermine the P-I in violation of the JOA.

Oglesby wouldn’t discuss why the P-I’s circulation continues to decline at a faster pace than The Times’. “Hopefully a new day has dawned,” he said.

Newspaper circulation nationwide has dropped in recent years as more readers, especially younger people, turn to the Internet for news.

Oglesby, Mackie and Digiacinto all pointed to their papers’ online growth as evidence there still is an audience for what they produce.

Measuring online audience remains an inexact science.

Digiacinto said average monthly Web page views in the first quarter were up 9 percent at seattletimes.com and 5 percent at seattlepi.com over last year. Those numbers were provided by the company that tracks traffic on both sites, she said.

Nielsen/Net Ratings, which uses a different methodology, reported page views during the first three months of this year were up 38 percent at seattlepi.com and 13 percent at seattletimes.com.

Scarborough Research said last week that, when print and online are combined, the papers and their associated Web sites reach 48 percent of all adults during an average week in a 17-county area stretching from Wenatchee to Chehalis to the Pacific.

In King and Snohomish counties, where the newspapers are marketed most extensively, that figure is 70 percent, Digiacinto said.

“Looking at the two [print and online] combined, we continue to deliver huge audiences for our advertisers,” she said.

But online advertising still generates less than 10 percent of newspapers’ total ad revenues.

Black Press buys Kirkland newspaper

The Kirkland Courier has a new owner, a new name and a new publication schedule.

Sound Publishing, a subsidiary of Black Press of Victoria, B.C., announced Monday it has bought the monthly community paper and plans to publish it weekly and rename it the Kirkland Courier/Reporter. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The Courier had been the only suburban paper owned by Pacific Publishing, whose other neighborhood papers all are in Seattle.

In acquiring the Courier, Black is filling a gap in its growing suburban chain. The company bought community papers in Auburn, Kent, Covington, Renton, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond, Bothell and Snoqualmie in November and now publishes most of them twice a week.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com