Rue Frontenac ends paper edition

Rue Frontenac has been publishing weekly since October

Citing an unsustainable business model that was based on advertising revenue that never materialized, Rue Frontenac coordinator Richard Bousquet announced on Wednesday that the publication of formerly-locked-out Journal de Montréal workers will no longer be publishing a weekly printed edition.

Rue Frontenac has published weekly on Thursdays since October. Small, squarish, with all its pages in full-colour and very little advertising.

When I talked to Bousquet in January on the anniversary of the lockout, he said that advertising was starting to pick up, and that the big problem was that so many marketing companies plan advertising campaigns months in advance, that they want the stability of a paper they know will last that long. Bousquet mentions in his piece that large companies and even governments prefer to deal with ad placement agencies for the sake of simplification, and that made it difficult for Rue Frontenac.

Though it was played down at the time, there was also the nervousness from some businesses about antagonizing the Journal de Montréal, something that was expected to end when the lockout was ended with Quebecor apparently blessing the continuation of the newspaper and website.

In the end, though, I think the biggest problem goes to the larger problem of Rue Frontenac’s business model. Not only do they have far more journalists than they can afford, but they’re trying to squeeze into the most overserved market in Canada: Francophone Montrealers. They’re fighting against five daily newspapers, including two free ones that are handed out every weekday morning outside metro stations. Rue Frontenac, meanwhile, is distributed like an alternative weekly, with distribution points in bars, supermarkets, restaurants and random places where the papers can easily be forgotten or missed among the dozens of others vying for attention.

So now Rue Frontenac will focus its efforts on its website. Bousquet notes that it’s growing in popularity – if not so much in advertising revenue – and there are no plans to end that part of the project.

But part of the idea behind a printed edition of Rue Frontenac was to provide enough revenue to at least partially subsidize the work of journalists who report online.

Now they’ll have to find some other way to make money. Even though the lockout ended more than two months ago, Bousquet and his team are still trying to figure out a viable business model.

If I can offer one piece of advice, the most important move they will make in that direction will be finding a niche audience that is willing to give them a lot of attention or a decent amount of money. Billing itself as a generalist news publication that’s just better journalism than the Journal de Montréal isn’t going to work in a market that has Le Devoir, La Presse, Radio-Canada and others.

5 thoughts on “Rue Frontenac ends paper edition

  1. AlexH

    Not really surprising. As you noted, they are attempting to break into a market that is already saturated, both in the daily and in the alt-press areas. Further, they are trying to do it with exactly the business model that Quebecor locked them out to get rid of, the staff heavy model that is just not in keeping with modern news gathering and distribution.

    Worse yet, being a weekly paper means that all of those costs are put on a single issue, which makes the advertising sales even more critical. Trying to get enough income from a single paper (instead of 5 – 7 daily editions) makes it a hard model to sustain.

    I think more than anything, when it stopped being a labor or love (or a labor of hate / spite, depending on how you look at it) I think it also became remarkably irrelevant to the marketplace. The whole reason for Rue Frontenac to exist in any fashion has been lost with the JdeM settlement.

  2. Peter Wheeland

    Pylon is so much better than poteau as a metaphor. Marks a spot but easily crushed. Never seen a case where a pylon derails a major party, until now. Pylons, 57, Bloc 4.

  3. David Pinto

    Rue Frontenac has/had the same basic problems as all free publicatiions:
    First off, if you are considering advertising in it, you, as an advertiser, want, above all else, to have a reasonable idea of how many people will read the publication. However, if the publication is free, then you have absolutely no way of knowing how many people read the paper.
    The second problem is that a lot of places which sell newspapers/magazines simpy will not accept to provide space for something that is free.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      if the publication is free, then you have absolutely no way of knowing how many people read the paper.

      That’s not true. Newspaper readership is measured by surveys, and whether a newspaper is paid for makes no difference in this case. Métro, 24H and the free weeklies have readership numbers that they use to sell ads.

      The second problem is that a lot of places which sell newspapers/magazines simpy will not accept to provide space for something that is free.

      Distribution (I’m assuming this is what you mean) isn’t really the problem. Rue Frontenac was distributed by a distribution company and appeared in a lot of places that accept a variety of free publications.

      1. sco100

        I think it was a faux business endeavour from the start. They never even tried to devise a clear business plan. They mostly wanted to be a thorn in Péladeau’s side, and that was a clear failure from the beginning. They then got caught up in the whole thing and became infatuated with their collective wet dream.

        True enough, the paper edition was a beautiful, luscious product, if you could get over their union=good-boss=bad angle, that is. But the main reason it was such a sexy paper was also the very reason why they could never turn a profit: it was devoid of ads. It must have been a huge money drain on the union.

        If your primary target readership is people siding with you in a labour dispute, what do you do when an agreement is reached and you can no longer define yourself as a victim? The problem is they seem to have never planned for surviving beyond a settlement.

        I’m sure they must have felt incredibly wild and free while it lasted, but they were operating in a bubble where there was no room for trivial concepts such as supply and demand or ROI. That may be vaguely sustainable if you’re running a student paper and know a few key people on the student council that can increase your budget at will through accounting pirouettes, but, otherwise, you can’t quite hope to survive in the real world.


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