Circulation declines at both of Seattle's daily newspapers accelerated in the past six months, with the Post-Intelligencer showing the sharper daily drop.

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Circulation declines at both of Seattle’s daily newspapers accelerated in the past six months, with the Post-Intelligencer showing the sharper daily drop — down 9 percent during the six-month period ended Sept. 30, compared with the similar period a year ago.

The Seattle Times’ circulation for the period fell 7 percent and the papers’ combined Sunday circulation was down 5 percent.

According to the figures released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Times’ daily circulation for the period was 215,502, down from 231,051 a year ago.

The P-I’s circulation in the period fell to 132,694 from 145,964.

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The Sunday Times/P-I, which carries content mostly from The Times, had a circulation of 441,398, compared with 462,920 last year.The local circulation figures mirrored declines at many major papers around the U.S.

Hearst Corp., which owns the P-I, said circulation at its San Francisco Chronicle dropped 16.5 percent. Circulation losses were also reported by the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, as well as by the Knight Ridder newspaper chain with 32 papers in cities such as Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose.

The nation’s second-largest newspaper chain, Knight Ridder reported that overall circulation fell about 2 percent daily and 3.5 percent for Sunday editions. The company owns 49.5 percent of The Seattle Times Co.

Industry experts blame the national declines on several factors, including a shift by younger readers and advertisers to Internet-based news and cable-television news operations, and federal restrictions on telemarketing for new subscribers.

Both The Times and P-I have wrestled with additional problems. They operate under a joint operating agreement (JOA) in which The Times prints, distributes and markets both papers. The papers publish separately, but pool their revenue, with The Times getting 60 percent and the P-I 40 percent, after The Times is paid for its non-news operations.

Both papers have been locked in a bitter legal and public relations fight over the JOA since April 2003. The Times is seeking to end or amend the agreement, contending that the P-I has dragged down revenue because of circulation losses. Hearst sued in state court to block The Times and says its paper can’t survive outside the agreement.

Earlier this year, the single-copy price of both papers rose to 50 cents, and The Times trimmed distribution to outlying areas of the state, including eastern Washington, where circulation costs outpace newspaper revenues. The papers also cut their-door-to-door circulation solicitation.

In an internal staff memo in September, Times officials said the moves, which took effect in March, have resulted in “significant” cost savings.

Jill Mackie, a Times spokeswoman, said that without the cost-cutting changes the circulation declines would have been less severe for both papers.

“If we hadn’t made the budgetary changes that we did, our circulation trend line would have showed a modest decline,” Mackie said.

Mackie said The Times does not expect circulation declines to continue. “We believe that a year from now we’ll be cycling back to a more positive trend,” she said.

While print circulation figures have declined, the online audience for both papers’ Web sites has grown, Mackie said.

Mackie said the combined online audience for both papers’ Web and print versions was up seven-tenths of a percent. Figures for the Times’ online growth were not immediately available, she said.

In a memo in September, Mike Lemke, the Times’ senior vice president for sales and marketing, said the Times’ revenue from its online advertising rose 28 percent through September on a year-over-year basis.

Representatives of Hearst or the P-I could not be reached for immediate comment.

Bill Richards is a freelance writer hired on a special contract by The Seattle Times to cover events involving the joint-operating agreement with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He can be reached at brichards@seattletimes.com.