Who wants to buy Transcontinental’s community newspapers in Quebec?

As was rumoured last week when it sold its Atlantic Canadian newspaper portfolio to the owners of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Transcontinental announced this morning that it has put its remaining newspapers, including Métro in Montreal, up for sale. This includes 93 publications, almost all of which are community newspapers in Quebec (there’s also the Seaway News in Cornwall, Ont.). And Transcontinental has grouped them into 27 groups, mainly by region.

The magazine Les Affaires and things like Publisac are not part of the sale process.

No buyer has been announced, and the process should “span several months.” Transcontinental will remain in charge of the newspapers during the process, and “will also continue to be the publisher of newspapers that may remain unsold.”

It’s unusual to announce a sale without a buyer lined up already. But there are also no obvious buyers for a collection of newspapers like this. Nevertheless, let’s go through the possibilities.

Quebecor

Many of these newspapers used to be owned by Quebecor, until they were sold en masse to Transcontinental in a deal first announced more than three years ago. (That deal also evaluated the newspapers at roughly $1 million apiece on average.) So buying them back, even at a discount, would be a big step back for this company that has shed assets to focus on its core properties Videotron and TVA.

On the other hand, Quebecor is going back to the past a bit, bringing Pierre Karl Péladeau back as CEO. If he wasn’t crazy about the sale of the newspapers in the first place (PKP stepped down a few months before it was announced), he could bring them back.

Buying the newspapers would let Quebecor re-establish a Quebec-wide source of local news, which would feed not only those local papers but also the Journal de Montréal/Québec and TVA.

But with Videotron spending a lot of money on building its wireless network and upgrading its cable network, TVA still trying to pull TVA Sports into the black, and the company prioritizing buying back the stake in it held by the Caisse de dépôt, there isn’t much extra cash lying around.

Groupe Capitales Médias

The owner of the half-dozen newspapers that used to be part of the Gesca chain (except La Presse) has regional news coverage as its core mission, so this purchase would make sense in that way.

Unfortunately we know little about GCM’s finances because it’s privately owned and Martin Cauchon still hasn’t been very forthcoming about where he got the money to buy the papers in the first place.

There’s also the fact that this purchase would further drive down competition, though the Postmedia/Sun Media deal effectively established that the Competition Bureau doesn’t care about that anymore.

Torstar

There are several community newspaper publishers in English Canada. Among them, Torstar would seem the most likely candidate to make a bid here. Postmedia doesn’t exactly have a lot of extra money lying around, Black Press and Glacier Media operate only in western Canada and the new Saltwire Network is too new to think about expanding right away (and if it was interested, it might have already bought them).

Torstar co-owns the other Metro newspapers in Canada, so it makes sense to buy Métro Montreal, perhaps separately from the others. And it had an interest in buying the Canwest chain until it lost out to Postmedia in the bidding. Its financial situation isn’t nearly as precarious as Postmedia’s.

But language is a big barrier for Torstar and the others. You can’t share articles or editors or page layouts when you’re working in a different language, and none of their current assets operate in French. There wouldn’t be that much efficiency in sharing resources.

XPND Capital

Alexandre Taillefer has made it a thing to try to rescue industries in need of innovation. He launched Téo Taxi to help the taxi industry compete against Uber. He bought Voir, and when Rogers decided to offload its Quebec publications he bought L’Actualité as well.

He definitely has the money, but does he think he can turn a profit on community newspapers?

Various local owners

An interview Transcontinental president François Olivier did with Presse Canadienne suggests this is the company’s actual vision, to sell off “at least half” of the publications to local owners who would be responsible for editorial and marketing, and would keep Transcontinental as their printer. Olivier also says that the newspapers are profitable, though that’s a difficult thing to measure on an individual basis when so much of newspaper operation is centralized.

There have been a few side deals where papers have been sold to entrepreneurs in their communities interested in buying. Others could be found to take over many of the remaining newspapers, but it’s almost impossible to find buyers for all 93. So going this route might mean many of them eventually get shut down, despite Transcontinental’s promise. (Olivier repeats in his interview that this won’t happen because the papers are profitable.) It would also mean breaking up the network, which relies a lot on centralized resources like editing, pagination and administration.

Rogers, Bell or some other rich media company that doesn’t own newspapers

Anything is possible, but why would they?

Someone rich who’s new to the media industry

Anyone who works at a struggling newspaper company fantasizes about a rich benefactor who buys the paper, doesn’t care about wasted money and doesn’t impose any editorial views. Unfortunately very few people like this exist. But there could be someone who decides to jump in and try to save the industry. We saw it with Cauchon’s purchase of the GCM papers, and with Taillefer’s purchase of Voir and L’Actualité.

It could even be someone, or a group of people, within Transcontinental itself that decide to start a new business. Some of them have decades of experience with community newspapers and could decide to become entrepreneurs.

No one

Finally, there’s the possibility that Transcontinental doesn’t find any takers for the majority of its collection. If they’re making money, it could decide to cancel the sale process and keep them. If they’re not, it could be the beginning of the end. They could remain running for a bit longer, but eventually the company would throw in the towel, and when it does there won’t be another sale offer, everything will just be shut down.

You

Got about $100 million lying around? How about $75 million? Or maybe just a few million for a few papers in your region? If so, contact Allison Dent (dent.allison@rcgt.com) or Arnaud Vital (vital.arnaud@rcgt.com).

We’ll see which of these options comes true in the coming months.

Newspapers for sale

  • Abitibi-Témiscamingue
    • Le Citoyen Rouyn-Noranda
    • Le Citoyen de la Vallée-de-l’Or
    • L’Écho Abitibien
    • La Frontière
  • Chambly
    • Journal de Chambly
  • Chaudière-Appalaches – (Portfolio 1)
    • Le Peuple Lévis
    • Le Peuple Lotbinière
  • Chaudière-Appalaches – (Portfolio 2)
    • Beauce Média
    • L’Éclaireur Progrès
    • Hebdo Régional
    • La Voix du Sud
  • Cornwall (Ontario)
    • Seaway News
  • Drummondville
    • L’Express (Wednesday/Sunday)
  • Estrie
    • Le Progrès de Coaticook
    • Le Reflet du Lac
  • Gaspésie
    • L’Avantage Gaspésien
    • L’Avant-Poste
    • L’Écho de la Baie
    • Le Havre
    • Le Pharillon
    • Vision Terre et Forêt
  • Granby/Cowansville
    • L’Avenir et des Rivières
    • Granby Express
    • Journal Le Guide
  • Lanaudière
    • L’Action D’Autray
    • L’Action (Wednesday/weekend)
    • L’Express Montcalm
  • Laurentides – (Portfolio 1)
    • Journal Le Nord
    • Le Mirabel
  • Laurentides – (Portfolio 2)
    • L’Information du Nord Mont-Tremblant
    • L’Information du Nord Sainte-Agathe
    • L’Information du Nord Vallée de la Rouge
  • Laval
    • Courrier Laval
  • Longueuil
    • Brossard Éclair
    • Le Courrier du Sud
    • L’Information d’Affaires Rive-Sud
    • Le Reflet
  • Mauricie
    • Le Courrier Sud
    • L’Écho de la Tuque
    • L’Écho de Maskinongé
    • L’Hebdo du Saint-Maurice
    • L’Hebdo Journal
  • Montreal (Portfolio 1)
    • Ambiance/Rendez Vous
    • L’Avenir de l’Est
    • Cités Nouvelles
    • Courrier Ahuntsic
    • Courrier Bordeaux-Cartierville
    • Corriere Italiano
    • L’Express d’Outremont
    • L’Express Mont-Royal
    • Le Flambeau Mercier-Anjou
    • Le Guide Montréal-Nord
    • Le Magazine de l’Île-des-Sœurs
    • L’Informateur de Rivière-des-Prairies
    • Journal de Rosemont
    • Messager Lachine & Dorval
    • Le Messager LaSalle
    • Le Messager Verdun
    • Nouvelles Hochelaga-Maisonneuve
    • Les Nouvelles Saint-Laurent News
    • Le Plateau
    • Progrès Saint-Léonard
    • Villeray?Parc-Ex Petite Patrie
    • La Voix Pop
  • Montreal (Portfolio 2)
    • Métro Montreal
  • Outaouais
    • Le Bulletin
    • La Petite-Nation
    • La Revue
  • Quebec City
    • L’Actuel
    • L’Appel
    • L’Autre Voix
    • Beauport Express
    • Charlesbourg Express
    • Le Jacques-Cartier
    • Journal Habitation
    • Le Québec Express
    • Québec Hebdo (website only)
  • Repentigny
    • Hebdo Rive-Nord
  • Rimouski
    • L’Avantage votre journal
  • Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
    • Le Courrier de Saguenay
    • L’Étoile du Lac
    • Le Lac-St-Jean
    • Les Nouvelles Hebdo
  • Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu
    • Le Canada Français
    • Le Richelieu
  • Sorel
    • Les 2 Rives
  • Thetford Mines
    • Courrier Frontenac
  • Valleyfield
    • Coup d’œil
    • Le Journal Saint-François
    • Le Soleil de Châteauguay
  • Victoriaville and Plessisville
    • L’Avenir de l’Érable
    • La Nouvelle-Union (Wednesday/Sunday)

5 thoughts on “Who wants to buy Transcontinental’s community newspapers in Quebec?

  1. Michel

    Let’s be crystal clear. Transcontinental does not own any community newspapers. They own local or regional newspapers. A community newspaper is one that is run by a non-profit or a group of volunteers. And besides, Transcontinental stopped caring about “communities” a long time ago by centralizing it’s newspapers and giving huge territories to cover to one or two reporters, who often barely have time to actually do more than reprint press releases or run the same articles in more than one paper.

    Reply
    1. dilbert

      You are correct.

      The issue of course is that the print ad business model has all but evaporated in the local marketplace. While the papers often have good distribution, the actual readership and effects of marketing are hard to pin down. Retail stores (the big advertisers) generally are fading away in most areas, which means they aren’t spending money for dubious print ads. The trend is to online ads, online presence, and more personal direct marketing.

      When you see a big company like Transcontinental running (and not walking) away from a business model, you need to understand that it’s no longer working out, not even when they cut all the corners and reprint the same stories in multiple papers. It’s unlikely that any single paper by itself will be able to do much better given those basic facts.

      Reply
      1. Michel

        We actually have a rather vibrant local community newspaper (Journal des voisins) doing a very good job on reporting local issues and getting smaller businesses and others to buy advertising on top of the $10 membership fee to be a voting member in the paper. Don’t know how long they’ll be around but they’re combining a weekly internet based model with a smaller distribution physical paper.

        Reply
        1. dilbert

          It’s all a question of value and local input, and meeting what the public expects to see. The online model is pretty important these days, and making that work is a big part of the game. Only sticking the paper online without any other interaction isn’t likely to work out very well. Getting everyone involved is key.

          Even then, unless the public is reading and actively using the local businesses and services, it doesn’t matter how engaging you are – nobody will pay for it. Finding a model that works that doesn’t need printing is likely the long term solution.

          Reply

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