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This has been a big week for the Seattle Weekly.  The alternative newspaper was acquired Wednesday by Sound Publishing, the local arm of a Canadian media chain.  We’ll have to wait and see what this means for the future of the Weekly, but at least it’s a clean break from any association with their prior owners and the scandal surrounding (although all ties between the paper and the escort site were in fact severed in September of 2012).

At the risk of indulging in media navel-gazing, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at alt-press readers in the Seattle area. We’re fortunate to have two large weekly papers in this area – the Weekly as well as The Stranger.  So who are their readers?  The two papers cast themselves as rivals, to a degree — but are there significant differences in the readership of the two publications?

I looked at market research survey data for people who live in King and Snohomish counties and who have recently read either of these publications in print.  The two free papers are fairly close in size; 297,000 folks say they’d recently read the Weekly, compared with 254,000 for The Stranger.

The Weekly and the Stranger have the reputation for appealing to the young, urban, and hip — at least compared with good old “Fairview Fanny” where I’m employed.  But how true is it?  Just how young, urban and hip are alt weekly readers?

Age Seattle Resident Median Income College +
Seattle Weekly 45.7 43.20% $65,500 63.4%
The Stranger 42.3 54.50% $70,000 61.1%
Source: Scarborough, 2012

As for being young — well, if 40 is the new 20, then yes, they’re young.  Alt weekly readers in Seattle might be young at heart, but they’re definitely starting to gray at the temples.  While The Stranger’s readers are a little younger than the Weekly’s, both papers’ readership averages well into their 40s.

More of their readers are suburban than you might expect.  For the Weekly, it’s actually the majority — only about 43 percent of Weekly readers are Seattle residents.  The Stranger has a significantly more urban readership, but it’s still pretty closely split — about 45 percent are in the ‘burbs.

And alternative-press junkies might be stereotyped as stoners and slackers, but if they are, they’re certainly well-compensated and well-educated ones.  Readers of The Stranger have a median household income slightly above the average for our metro area.  Weekly readers earn just a little less.  And both publications attract a highly educated audience — more than 60 percent have a college degree or higher.

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Source: Scarborough Research, 2012

The one demographic difference between readers of the two papers that I find most surprising is that, while the Weekly’s readers are almost evenly split between men and women, nearly two out of three Stranger readers are men. Weekly readers, on the other hand, are a lot more domestic than Stranger readers — 44 percent more Weekly readers have kids, and 15 percent more are married.  That could be an indication that the Stranger has a larger gay readership — but of course, as gay people are increasingly marrying and building families, those are demographic variables that are becoming more evenly divided between straight and gay groups.

And what about crossover between the rival alt weeklies?  How firmly are Seattle-area readers in one camp or another?  As it turns out, not that firmly.  Almost 40 percent of Seattle-area alternative-weekly readers, or about 157,000 people, read both the Stranger and the Weekly.


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