The Audit Bureau of Circulations this week announced figures for the six-month period ending Sept. 30, 2009, and the year-over-year drop in average weekday print circulation among 379 U.S. daily newspapers was 10.6 percent. That's not strictly due to people simply walking away from print. Over that year, the incentives to subscribe changed, in some cases through price increases and distribution pullbacks. But it's ugly just the same.
So what happened in Seattle? It's difficult, though not impossible, to say.
A year ago we had two daily printed newspapers, and today we have one. Complicating matters, we don't know how many people a year ago subscribed to both The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which now publishes online-only as SeattlePI.com.
But here's what we know for sure: Today's Seattle Times average weekday circulation of 263,588 is, by my calculations, 52,085 less — 16.4 percent less — than the 316,673 combined circulation of both papers a year ago.
So while the Times is touting a circulation gain of "an amazing 32.6 percent" and that "84 percent of the non-duplicated daily P-I subscribers are now Times subscribers," the bigger picture of print newspaper circulation in Seattle is somewhere short of amazing, unless you're talking about an amazing drop.
The above chart was assembled by yours truly, who painstakingly pored over news clippings of the past 10 years and plugged the numbers into Excel. Figures are for the six-month periods ending March 31 (spring) and Sept. 30 (fall). Data are from ABC as reported by ABC, both daily newspapers, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and Seattle Weekly. Due to the wide range of sources required to assemble the spreadsheet, some numbers reflect adjustments after auditing and some numbers are those reported before audit. If anyone has a better collection of Seattle data, I'd love to see it.