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.
- An introductory text in which they point out that 75% of Métro’s content is original reporting
- A report from journalist Marie-Ève Shaffer on the evolution of both of Montreal’s free dailies, and how they’ve grown from soulless copiers of wire content to creators of news of their own (albeit limited).
- A look back at their first front page and how things have changed since then (or not)
- Highlights of front pages over the past 10 years
- A brief timeline of the paper’s production
- A profile of the paper’s first editor-in-chief, Marc-André Dumont
Plus the video, seen above, that makes the 10th anniversary of a newspaper seem like a Steven Seagal movie.
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.
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.”