The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) on Tuesday released its semi-annual report on newspaper circulation. Doug Porter of San Diego Free Press reported it first, pointing out that ABC showed that U-T San Diego's Sunday circulation was down 4.6 percent, from 368,723 in September 2011 to 351,682 in September 2012.
This contradicts what U-T CEO John Lynch has said publicly: that the newspaper's subscriptions have increased since he and Doug Manchester bought the paper last year, despite criticism of the newspaper's far-right political views and apparent editorial meddling by the new owners. In a statement to KPBS's Amita Sharma, Lynch said that "readership was declining at a greater rate before Manchester bought the paper a year ago."
Unfortunately, it's a claim that's tough to verify. In 2010, newspaper-auditing rules changed, so any data prior to 2011 is invalid, meaning we can only compare U-T circulation numbers for 2011 and 2012.
Manchester bought the paper in November 2011. Prior to that, investment firm Platinum Equity owned the U-T, after purchasing it from David Copley in May 2009.
In March 2011, under Platinum Equity's ownership, the U-T's Sunday circulation was 296,272. In September 2011, Sunday circulation jumped by more than 72,000 subscriptions to 368,723. Manchester and Lynch announced in mid November 2011 that they were purchasing the paper; the deal closed the following month. In March 2012, ABC reported the U-T's Sunday circulation as 364,454. By September of this year, Sunday circulation dropped to 351,682. To recap:
March 2011 (eight months before Manchester bought the paper): 296,272
September 2011 (two months before Manchester's purchase): 368,723
March 2012 (four months after Manchester's purchase): 364,454
September 2012 (10 months after Manchester's purchase): 351,682
Update: Lynch told 10News that circulation was down "6 percent to 10 percent on an annual basis" before he and Manchester took over the paper. Clearly that's not supported by comparable ABC numbers.