Circulation figures mixed at Seattle Times

Unlike other big papers, circulation held steady for daily editions over the past six months. Sunday circulation is down but less than elsewhere.
Unlike other big papers, circulation held steady for daily editions over the past six months. Sunday circulation is down but less than elsewhere.

One year after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing — and two months after The Seattle Times proclaimed it is "here to stay" — the future of the city's lone remaining print daily remains unclear.

During the last six months, the Times'ꀙ daily circulation was unchanged from the previous six-month period, The Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industry trade group that tracks newspaper circulation, reported today (April 26).

ABC tallied the Seattle Times average daily circulation at 263,468 for the six months ended March 31 — about the same circulation number the Times reported at the end of September and up from the 203,175 circulation it claimed a year ago.

In contrast, daily circulation at the nation's 25 largest papers recorded an average drop of 8.7 percent during the latest six months.

But ABC noted that the Seattle daily circulation figures for those periods may not be meaningful because the Times managed the P-I's circulation and automatically absorbed all of its 90,000 subscribers after Hearst shut the smaller paper on March 17, 2009. For example, the Times' circulation at the end of last September included about 60,000 former P-I subscribers, indicating a drop of about 30,000 subscribers.

Hearst continues to publish an online edition but the's readership is no longer included in the ABC totals.

However, ABC's circulation statistics for Sunday papers may offer a hint at the declining health of the Times' print paper. According to ABC, the Sunday edition of the Times fell by 5.2 percent during the last six months. Overall, however, circulation at the 25 largest Sunday papers fell by an average of 7.6 percent, with those losses driven by big Sunday circulation drops at the Dallas Morning News (21.4 percent), the Boston Globe (18.8 percent) and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (13.9 percent).

While the P-I and the Times nominally published the Sunday paper together under their Joint Operating Agreement, the Times contributed all but a small section of the paper and managed most of the paper's editorial content as well its business side. Sunday circulation figures do not always reflect the health of a newspaper's overall operation, but the Seattle figures suggest the company is continuing to lose former P-I and Times subscribers.

Last February, the Blethen family, which owns 50.5 percent of the Seattle Times Co., the paper's corporate parent, took out a full-page ad in their own paper heralding a refinancing agreement with their lenders. The Blethens said the company had contemplated filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of its debts, but that under the refinancing agreement, "The Seattle Times is here to stay."

Under the deal, the Times Co. owes more than $127 million, including $71.6 million in bank debt, plus a pension liability that stood at $56.2 million last Sept. 30.

The Times did not immediately respond to Crosscut'ꀙs request for comment on its latest circulation numbers.


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