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Circulation at both Seattle dailies is down

An audit report shows declining print circulation rates, but the P-I maintains its readership is strong.

Paid daily and Sunday circulation fell at both of Seattle's daily newspapers, reversing a local trend that had countered nationwide circulation losses at metropolitan papers around the U.S. At the same time, senior Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer officials said the papers have made a strategic decision to cut back on their efforts to sign up new subscribers.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a newspaper industry trade group that tracks circulation figures for all the major U.S. newspapers, said the P-I's paid circulation fell 7.8 percent, from 127,584 to 117,572, for the six months ended Sept. 30, compared to a similar period last year. The Seattle Times circulation dropped 7.6 percent, from 215,311 to 198,741, during the same period, while Sunday circulation for the papers' combined paper fell 9.1 percent to 382,332.

The average daily circulation drop for all the 507 U.S. newspapers audited by ABC was 4.6 percent during the current reporting period.

Ken Bunting, the P-I's associate publisher, told Crosscut the paper's circulation loss was not unexpected. Bunting said both the P-I and Times have all but eliminated free "bonus" circulation boosters, such as extra daily copies delivered to Sunday subscribers, and have cut back substantially on distribution of free and discount copies of newspapers at hotels.

"We've also reduced our efforts to sell new subscriptions," Bunting said. With brief exceptions, both the P-I and Times have seen their circulation figures drop steadily in recent years. The latest ABC figures mark the first time in more than a decade that the Times circulation has dropped below 200,000, while Bunting said he could not recall when the P-I's circulation was below 120,000.

The Times and P-I function under a joint operating agreement (JOA) in which the Times prints, distributes, and markets both papers, but they are separately owned and published. The latest circulation figures put the Times and P-I in line with virtually the entire newspaper industry, which is facing plummeting circulation and advertising losses.

In its report today, ABC said circulation at the Everett Herald was down 1.8 percent, and Spokane's Spokesman-Review had a drop of 4.5 percent. In Tacoma, the News Tribune was down 5.2 percent. Nationally, almost all major urban dailies showed circulation declines, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

In a memo circulated today to Times staffers, Alan Fisco, the Times' vice president of circulation, said the papers were also making a "targeted reduction of new subscription sales." Under that plan, Fisco said, the Times and P-I were cutting back on seeking new subscribers in areas where the cost of finding subscribers was high and customer-retention rates were poor.

"While paid circulation numbers are down, our print readership is strong and stable," Fisco's memo said. Both Fisco and Bunting said the ABC paid circulation figures released today do not account for multiple readers of a single print copy or users of the papers' online Web sites.

Times Web sites are averaging more than eight million individual visitors each month and a total of more than 90 million monthly page views, Fisco said. Combining print and online operations, he said the Times reaches about 70 percent of all adults in King and Snohomish counties.

"Circulation numbers don't tell the whole story," Bunting said. "We obviously like positive numbers more than negative ones, but both papers have a solid steady audience."

The circulation strategy of Seattle's dailies may also reflect coming changes in newspaper technology. Hearst plans to begin field testing a new digital e-paper next year that would allow subscribers to download an online real-time version of the current print edition onto a flexible wireless screen. If successful, the e-paper could allow newspaper owners to cut more than half their operating overhead while permitting advertisers to target readers.

The e-paper, which is being developed in Palo Alto and New York under the code-name FirstPaper, is scheduled to be tested initially in Houston and San Francisco. Last year, Hearst officials denied the company planned to add Seattle to the field testing. Asked yesterday if those plans had changed, Bunting told Crosscut, "We are engaged in all sorts of multi-platform efforts. Is there a plan for the P-I to become an e-paper, or go all-digital? That's not something I am aware of."

Bill Richards is a former Wall Street Journal senior writer. He also operates a small farm in Kitsap County. You can e-mail him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

How much is the e-paper going to cost, and will it only display the P-I or other Hearst papers? If so, I can't see its advantage over the Web or Oprah's favorite new toy, the Kindle -- especially with the advent of the iPhone and the T-Mobile G1 (aka the Google Phone).

I do still appreciate the physical paper, and occasionally still buy one -- but I don't want, nor do I see the advantage of, some sort of hybrid.

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 4:47 p.m. Inappropriate

When I was growing up, we took the P-I in the morning and the Bremerton Sun in the afternoon. Because newspaper companies pretty much either folded or converted afternoon papers, they subtly changed readers' news consumption habits. That might be part of the problem.

Another part is that, for several years, circulators propped up their numbers with "third-party" circulation, meaning bulk sales. Advertisers hated it because the audience for these papers was pretty much nonexistent. A lot of the decline we've seen in the past three years has been newspapers shedding this false circulation, partly because of newsprint costs.

Then there's craigslist and ebay ...

aperdue

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 6:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Who says there's no good news?

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 6:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Now you may say, in a town as overwhelmingly liberal as Seattle, "Screw those troglodyte, Republican morons!" Well, you can say that but then you will, sooner or later, fire 200 of your employees. And that will be only the start.

Why? Because in an "overwhelmingly liberal town" you are talking about, at most, around 55% of the potential readership that agrees with you. This means you are leaving about 45% of potential readership out of the equation altogether. King County has about 2 million people. That means that 45% of potential readership is not at all a trivial number, and yet the Seattle Times takes every opportunity to alienate them. Result: Mass sackings and many millions lost.

And yet the Seattle Times, as well as numerous other newspapers now dying in the US, never ever cops to its point of view as the reason why it is failing.

This is like some postmodern purist hamburger joint that won't put cheeseburgers on the menu. There's 100 people who want either a hamburger or a cheeseburger, but the cooks only want to make hamburgers. For 55 people, that's great, but there's 45 people who won't ever again go to the Chez Hamburger Only / No Cheeseburger joint.

The ownership notices that the business is drifting downwards because of the lack of cheeseburger. It talks to the cooks and begs them to just, every so often, slap a slice of cheese on a burger, but the cooks say, "No, we are "chefs" and the cheese on the burger is an abomination! Besides, everyone who comes in here feels the same way about the cheese on the burger concept. As do our friends and family, who would stop talking to us if we put the cheese on the burger, even to save our ass. We are pure. There shall be no cheese on the burger on our watch!"

"But," the owner points out, "the people who wish to have the little small morsel of cheese on the burger are going to the place of the hamburger and the cheeseburger! They are not the few, but 45% of what we could have for our business. Please, please place the cheese on the burger."

The cooks -- now "chefs of the future" -- say, "Non! Mais Non! We have our standards and our standards say that the cheese on the burger will never, NEVER, be served here!"

And the owners bow to the haughty chefs of the Times, for, lo, they have won awards from their peers that they will never stop gassing about. The owners bow to them and then they fire them. Or some of them. But never, ever, the head chefs who will continue to refuse the cheese for the burger. After all, it is not the fault of the chefs that almost half the people who would eat of the burger of cheese have now learned to never, ever eat at the rChez Hamburger Only / No Cheeseburger joint. No. It is never the fault of the chefs. It is always the fault of the Internet and the millions of stands up and down the Info Highway that serve hamburgers and cheeseburgers and classified ads -- for free.

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 6:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Source:

http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/news_to_me/seattle_times_a.php

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 8:42 p.m. Inappropriate

So what I hear you saying is you think everyone at The Seattle Times will wind up working at Dick's Drive-In.

Or perhaps as editors at http://icanhascheezburger.com/.

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 9:47 p.m. Inappropriate


you know, its a good point ! - and it's the reason why I never give money to the Times/PI !

I, for one, look forward to the day when the Times is gone !

Posted Mon, Oct 27, 10:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Chuck, that was cheesy.

Next time try to beef it up a bit.

After all, we've got bigger fish to fry.

Posted Tue, Oct 28, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Although print circulation at the dailies is down, both of their web sites are doing well. They regularly rate in the top 30 in the country. So, their audience is actually growing. What isn't growing is revenue. Online ads just don't pay as well as print did ... at least not yet.

Kick them now but, when the dailies are gone, you'll miss them and their big news staffs.

Prospero

Posted Tue, Oct 28, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

No, I will not miss them. I will consider that they have gotten what they richly deserve. The fact that web sites are doing well is not going to be enough to haul their charred chestnuts out of the fire. I'm sure Crosscut biz types can fill in the vast difference between web revenue and print revenue. Simply taking paper and printing plants and delivery vehicles out of the equation doesn't do it.

Posted Tue, Oct 28, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Despite editorial perspectives that are left-wing and flat-earth in nature, I still like traditional newspapers, and I hate a lot of the changes I see in them.

Two or three weeks ago, The Seattle Times stopped publishing all but one per day of the letters to the editor it receives. Claiming that the increase in on-line readership justified it, LTEs and much (most?) Op-Ed commentary got moved to the on-line edition.

I haven't been so pissed off since who knows when!

The chowderheads who run The Times should end up working at Dick's after pulling a stunt like that.

As an aside...working at Dick's can be a great way to get your first break - decent pay, help with college tuition, benefits, and all the fries you can eat.

And I know for a fact that The Times doesn't do the investigative journalism like it used to.

How does dumping local opinion pieces and scrapping its role of holding government and special interests accountible justify First Amendment protection of the press?

I'm pretty sure our Founding Fathers didn't include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to insulate Times sports writer Steve Kelly's run on sentences from scrutiny by the grammar police.

Nor were they envisioning protections against prior restraint as precluding the censorship of Macy's ads, which, for the size of them when compared to the amount of news in the paper these days, might not be a bad idea.

Pretty soon, The Little Nickel will be all that's left.

The Piper

Posted Tue, Oct 28, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Vanderleun, with no Times or P-I, where do you expect to get your daily local news?

Posted Tue, Oct 28, 6:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't want to lug another screen for digital news and I find it hard to believe that there is a large market for e-paper in the shrinking niche between laptops and mobiles like the iPhone or the G1.

E-paper technology has been intriguing since it came out of the labs almost a decade ago, but the number of people with a Kindle or Sony eReader is small compared to the number of people reading news on their blackberries and iPhones.

Look to iPhone reader apps like Stanza and the NYTime's to see a glimpse of what people in the future will be reading instead of ink on pulp.

Posted Wed, Oct 29, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Vanderleun: You're a moron.

AmyLander

Posted Thu, Oct 30, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey Bill: Why not give us the latest on Blethen? It is the end of the month, and I suspect Blethen is struggling to make his payroll in this ad downturn. I don't think the banks are in much of a mood to provide more cash, and there have been no developments in the Blethen Maine paper sale, or the downtown Seattle property sale. Lots of promise of activity, but no signatures on the bottom line, or action that I can see. Is the Blethen balloon about to explode Friday.?

Posted Thu, Oct 30, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Amy,
The pleasure is to serve humorless twits at every opportunity.

Posted Sat, Nov 1, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Ladies and gentlemen, please, no name-calling. You can do that at Slog.

Posted Sat, Nov 1, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I want to read the newspaper in print. But, then I am old and always have. I read the ads in paper form but do not in lines along side on my computer.

I read all the small items in the paper about what is happening in my town. I may not attend but I do appreciate knowing when the next city council meeting about land use is going to be. And, occasionlly attend. However, I do not want this information e-mailed to me. I get far to much as it is. And whenever I place my name on some list my e-mail seems to seems to expand tremendously.

Posted Sat, Nov 1, 6:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Vanderleun thinks the Seattle Times (which endorsed Rossi and would have endorsed McCain if the Republicans were not such abject failure)whose three fold mission is:

1) Promote the interests of the wealthy corporate elite who run this town.
2) Lower taxes-espeacially for the wealthy.
3) Repeal the "death tax."

is a liberal paper. As someone above has already said: Vandereun is a moron. And backing up a moronic argument by linking to a right wing whacko blogger does not count as proof of anything.

Posted Sat, Nov 1, 6:30 p.m. Inappropriate

oops-sorry Chuck. I missed you comment about name calling. And really, who reads Slog besides Joel Connelly and Bruce Ramsey?

I have read the newspaper with my breakfast virtually everyday of my life for fifty years starting when I was a "paperboy" and delivered the Bangor (Maine)Daily News every morning in freezing cold and blowing snow. A couple years ago I was spending $962 a year reading the PI, NYT, and ST everyday. I no longer buy any of them. I get my news online. $962-$540 for DSL=$422 saved. $422x 2 years= 1 laptop purchased. And for my bus commute I subscribe to a few liberal magazines. Harpers, The New Yorker and The Nation. Kiss my fanny Frank Blethen. oops!

Posted Sun, Nov 2, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Big City Dallies are in a collapse mode. They have desperately glommed themselves onto Demo-Lib policies in an attempt to speak to a very narrow base of bitter urban leftists. However, because of their historic place and name recognition, they command a broader mindshare than actually readership. This election is in part an example of an over leveraged candidate, Barry O, exploiting that leverage before it disappears entirely.

jabailo

Posted Mon, Nov 3, 10:36 a.m. Inappropriate

The statement "And backing up a moronic argument by linking to a right wing whacko blogger does not count as proof of anything." is in itself no proof of anything, least of all what it asserts to prove.

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