Métro turns 10

March 1 marked the 10th anniversary of free daily newspapers in Montreal. It was 10 years ago that a partnership between Montreal-based Transcontinental and Swedish-based Metro International SA launched Métro in Montreal, replicating in French what they had done in English in Toronto the previous year.

Eight-page special issue in Tuesday's Métro

To celebrate the anniversary, Tuesday’s edition of Métro had an eight-page special insert – there’s also a website with the same content – about itself. Included in this are:

Plus the video, seen above, that makes the 10th anniversary of a newspaper seem like a Steven Seagal movie.

Aside from that, the press release includes a PDF of profiles of newsroom employees, who look a heck of a lot younger than the people in my newsroom.

Another anniversary coming

It was only days after Métro’s first appearance that Quebecor launched a competing free daily. Montréal Métropolitain had its first edition on March 12, 2001, and it would later be renamed 24 Heures.

From the beginning, that newspaper was distributed by hand outside metro stations (Quebecor fought but later lost a court challenge to Métro’s monopoly inside the metro – and recently outbid Métro for that same exclusive distribution right). Its readership numbers have always trailed Métro’s, but the gap has narrowed in recent years, and the distribution agreement with the STM could see 24 Heures finally pull ahead.

I haven’t seen any plans yet from 24 Heures to mark its anniversary.

UPDATE (April 5): There was an anniversary paper on March 28 with a small special insert, accompanied by a press release.

Can they last?

Looking back at some archives from 2001, it seemed clear that a lot of analysts didn’t hold out much hope for these papers. The consensus seemed to be that Montreal’s francophone market could maybe support one free daily like this, but not two.

It’s clear, 10 years later, that not only have both survived, but they’ve flourished, perhaps largely because of the fierce competition from each other. Both greatly increased the amount of original reporting by hiring more journalists (though 24 Heures’s decision to do so is seen in a somewhat negative light because the work of those journalists was then used to feed the locked-out Journal de Montréal). Both are now thicker and have more news than they did 10 years ago, while the paid papers are getting thinner in both size and content.

Expansion to Quebec City?

Also this week, Metro Canada announced that it would launch in two new markets: Winnipeg and London, Ont., bringing their distribution to nine cities.

With the addition of these two, Metro now serves nine of Canada’s 13 most populous metropolitan areas. Of the four it doesn’t serve, three are in southern Ontario (Hamilton, Kitchener, St. Catharines), between Toronto and London. The fourth, Number 7 on the overall list, is Quebec City.

Barring any unusual impediments unique to that area, expansion to Quebec City makes sense. There are no free dailies serving the city, leaving all the readership to Le Soleil and the Journal de Québec. And because there’s already a Métro in Montreal, much of the content – and even the design – could be shared between the two papers. Métro would only need to hire some local reporters and editors and arrange for distribution.

For that matter, it might be worth looking at whether it’s worth starting up an English version in Montreal. A quick calculation shows the Montreal anglo market to be about 750,000, which is about the same as Quebec City and Winnipeg and larger than London and Halifax.

If there’s an argument against it, it’s certainly not a question of numbers. Perhaps English Montrealers are already picking up the French Métro, or they’re too concentrated in the West Island where there isn’t any metro service. Or maybe there’s a worry about people getting confused seeing two newspapers that look alike. Or maybe there’s worry that there could be political fallout if another English newspaper were to launch in Quebec.

Or maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Transcontinental* had the option of launching an English Montreal paper back in 2001, but hadn’t made plans to do so.

*Transcontinental is the major partner in Montreal’s Métro, while Torstar is the major partner in the seven editions west of here, including the new ones announced this week. Both companies are co-owners of Metro Halifax.

UPDATE: Bill McDonald, president of Metro (English) Canada, says that “at this point, we have no specific plans for future expansion.  However, I can assure you we are not done yet.”

6 thoughts on “Métro turns 10

  1. Hugo P.L.

    A new free daily in English for the Montreal market, why not? But I know the actual Métro is read by several anglos (including some of my friends) who wouldn’t be reading any French at all without it. Maybe it helps Montreal to be united during one morning ride in our metro system.

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  2. Alex H

    Expansion in certain markets may be more difficult if there isn’t a ready “commuter” market to hit. You need a good corridor of people on public transit / with time to kill to really make it work out. Cities with subways or cities with transit hubs (think Ottawa) are good candidates. Cities that are dispersed and with a more “point to point” oriented public transit are much harder to serve well. These are the core readers, the ones that can reliably pick up the paper 5 days a week and give them the needed distribution levels.

    Papers like 24 Heures are exactly the products of the wonderful QMI style arrangements, which allows them to produce content once and outlet it in different ways. It makes the costs for all more reasonable. It’s the future.

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  3. D

    My understanding is that these dailies rely on high public transit use; could that be a problem in other markets such as Québec, Halifax, or London ON? Those cities might have substantially fewer readers given that a far greater share of their residents’ commute is a 20min drive, rather than a 30min transit trip.

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  4. Chris

    Not sure what they should be proud about – it’s barely a newspaper. Just fluff and summaries.

    But more to the point – I’m reaching tolerance levels of having the damn thing shoved in my face when I try to enter the metro and when I leave. The distributors from both lousy free papers block your path. I keep expecting to get whacked by one of them when I refuse to take a paper…

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  5. Canadianskeezix

    24 Hours used to have both English and French language editions in Ottawa-Gatineau, but I believe that the French-language edition was dropped after a couple of years. It could simply be that the francophone market in the capital region was too small to support a free paper, but any of the potential pitfalls suggested above for an English-language edition of Montreal Metro could equally have been the cause.

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