Seattle's two daily newspapers plan to raise their newsstand price to 50 cents, up from the 25 cents they have charged for the past four...

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Seattle’s two daily newspapers plan to raise their newsstand price to 50 cents, up from the 25 cents they have charged for the past four years.

Spokesmen for both The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer confirmed plans for the increase, which will take place at the end of the month. The increase will affect single-copy sales of the papers in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties and on Bainbridge Island.

Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin said yesterday the cost of distributing single copies, which are mostly sold from street-side boxes, had gone up since the papers dropped their price to 25 cents after an employee strike at the end of 2000 and early 2001.

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The papers sold for 50 cents before the strike. “During the strike period,” Coughlin said, “we distributed for free. Then after it was over, we went to 25 cents and we decided to hold that as long as possible.”

Under the joint-operating agreement (JOA) between The Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp., owner of the P-I, the papers publish separate editions and compete head to head. The Times handles printing, distribution, marketing and other business functions of both papers.

P-I Publisher Roger Oglesby said that under the JOA’s terms, the decision to raise the newsstand price is made by The Times.

“We agreed with the decision,” Oglesby said. “It’s gotten increasingly more expensive to produce and distribute the paper, and we need to raise the price.”

Coughlin said the papers’ combined weekday circulation is 385,150, with The Times accounting for 234,274 and the P-I selling the remaining 150,876.

The price increase will affect sales of about 30,900 Times copies and 27,500 P-I copies, according to The Times. It will not affect Sunday papers or those delivered to homes. Outside the four areas targeted for the increase, the papers already sell for 50 cents or more, Coughlin said.

The 50-cent price tag matches that of other metropolitan newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, also owned by Hearst.

The Times and Hearst are locked in a legal struggle over the future of Seattle’s daily-newspaper market. Times Co. officials say the JOA and the P-I’s dwindling circulation are partly responsible for losses at their Seattle flagship paper.

In April of 2002, Times Publisher Frank Blethen notified Hearst that The Times had suffered financial losses under the JOA from 2000 to 2002. That triggered a JOA provision that calls for negotiations that could shut the P-I, end the JOA, or both.

Hearst sued in King County Superior Court to block implementation of the JOA provision. In its suit, part of which is before the state Supreme Court, Hearst disputed the validity of The Times’ loss claims and said it wanted to continue publishing the 142-year-old P-I under the JOA.

Times Co. officials, citing additional losses under the joint agreement last year, said recently they plan to cut up to 110 news and non-news jobs by the end of the first quarter.

The company also plans additional cost-cutting moves, including slightly reducing the size of the paper to save newsprint costs.

The P-I’s Oglesby declined to say whether his paper is losing money.

While the price rise is expected to boost revenue to both papers, the bulk of their revenue — about 80 percent, said Coughlin — comes from advertising sales.

In an internal memo circulated to Times employees last month, Times officials said the paper’s advertising revenue rose by 1.9 percent in 2004 over the previous year.

Coughlin said yesterday The Times has no current plans to increase its ad rates.

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.