Here's the memo, leaked to me this morning by a Times employee. Also worth noting: Despite the substitution method griping we've reported on, the Times claims that it picked up 98 percent of former P-I subscribers who were automatically transitioned to Times subscriptions.

To: All Seattle Times

Subject: Company communication from Alan re: Circulation Results

Date: April 27, 2009

To: Seattle Times Employees

From: Alan Fisco, VP Circulation & Marketing

Re: March Publisher’s Statement Results

Today, national circulation results were released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) for the six-month period ending March 31. Our results show us down about 8% for this reporting period for both daily and Sunday circulation. Most of these losses are due to budget decisions we made throughout 2008 and earlier this year in response to the economic recession. We made these decisions as strategically as possible, with the goal of minimizing the impact to our readership and audience while preserving our core home delivery and single copy strength.

The critical headline not reflected in these results, however, is the incredible success of the transition to one newspaper. The numbers released today show very little impact from the closure of the P-I, as that didn’t happen until the tail end of this reporting period. Thanks to the quality and appeal of The Seattle Times newspaper, as well as an effective communication and marketing plan, only about 2% of 74,000 former P-I subscribers have chosen to cancel their subscriptions since the March 18 transition to one newspaper.

While we don’t normally report circulation numbers other than those reported via the twice yearly Publisher’s Statement, there is great interest in the success of our conversion efforts. A snapshot of current circulation for the daily Seattle Times is 289,000. Prior to the closure of the P-I, Times daily circulation was 194,000. Our Sunday average has not been impacted by the change. Single copy sales is the area affected most by the conversion to one newspaper, as former P-I subscribers who occasionally purchased a Times via single copy now get the Times at home. Taken together with the reduction in duplicate home delivery and electronic Newspapers in Education copies, we have retained about 95% of our daily circulation compared to pre-conversion.

Across the country, we will see circulation numbers down somewhat. Recently, when results are published they are accompanied with noise about the viability of newspaper franchises and messages about our audiences being in deep decline. Let me say that neither is true.

Yes, the “great recession” we are in has challenged us financially like never before. This is resulting from the impact of the recession on many of our advertisers. We believe this will improve as we emerge from this difficult economic cycle.

On the audience front, print circulation alone doesn’t capture the strength of the Seattle Times Company’s online network. When looking at both our print and online audience, the picture is very bright, validating the value that our users see in the local news and information only we provide.
When we combine print and online together, you get the complete audience picture. A picture that is quite impressive. Our audience is not only stable, it has grown. During the 2002 — 2008 timeframe, the number of adults using our combined print and online networks has grown 3%, with modest print declines offset by significant online growth. Hardly the picture we seem to read about or hear frequently.

We are, and will be, the region’s largest and most trusted print and online destination for news, information and advertising, consumed by more people than any other local media source. There’s no question that we are in a time of change. The current economic challenges are giving us all new perspectives on things we may have taken for granted in the past. Last month’s closure of the P-I is one clear example. As our current marketing campaign states, “In times of change, our commitment remains constant.” Now more than ever your contribution to our community service mission makes a difference. Thank you for all you do in support of our readers, advertisers, community and each other.