The end of the free daily newspaper in (English) Canada

About 20 years after it first became a thing, the free daily commuter newspaper will cease to exist in English Canada.

Torstar announced on Tuesday that it will cease production of its StarMetro dailies (formerly Metro) in the five cities it currently operates — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax. The result will be more than 120 layoffs, according to Unifor, which is using the news to demand additional government help for print media.

The closure means Canada is left with only two free daily print newspapers, both of which are in Montreal: Métro and 24 Heures. Both were once part of nationwide chains but got split up from them.

Metro operated newspapers in:

  • London
  • Regina
  • Saskatoon
  • Ottawa
  • Winnipeg
  • Vancouver
  • Edmonton
  • Calgary
  • Toronto
  • Halifax

24 Hours operated in:

  • Gatineau
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Ottawa
  • Vancouver
  • Toronto

There were also independent efforts, particularly in Toronto:

  • FYI Toronto and GTA Today, free papers launched by the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star, respectively, when the craze began in 2000.
  • Dose, the Canwest free daily that lasted just over a year in five cities
  • t.o.night, which tried to make an afternoon free daily a thing

Now they’re all dead.

So what about Montreal?

Montreal’s remaining free dailies have unique circumstances, but they aren’t immune from the same economic forces — a reduction in advertising revenue, an increase in expenses, as well as less attention from readers who can now spend their morning commutes checking Facebook on their phones.

Métro, formerly a Transcontinental paper, was sold along with Montreal and Quebec City community papers to Métro Média, a company owned by Michael Raffoul, an entrepreneur who owns a print media distribution company.

24 Heures, owned by Quebecor, is a de facto sister publication to the Journal de Montréal. It no longer has its own website, and its stories live on the Journal de Montréal’s site. It saves money by using stories from the Journal and TVA.

Neither newspaper has any guarantee of surviving in the long term. Quebecor could shut down 24H at any time, and few people would notice (it disappeared for a week this summer and nobody raised an eyebrow). Metro, meanwhile, is part of a larger group of newspapers that is increasingly codependent, and a shutdown there might be devastating for what’s left of the on-island community newspapers (though many of them are little more than advertising vehicles these days).

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries something new in Toronto. It’s a city of millions and just seems a bit odd that it wouldn’t have at least one free news daily. But maybe it’s time to acknowledge that this method of getting news hasn’t kept up with technological progress.

Which isn’t all bad. It’ll mean fewer discarded newspapers clogging up subway systems.

9 thoughts on “The end of the free daily newspaper in (English) Canada

  1. Ian Howarth

    Face it. The no newspaper news is all bad. People lose jobs. If the only upside is less litter, it’s difficult to see that as any consolation. As a former print journalist, it’s just one more nail in the coffin. I find it depressing.

  2. Anonymous

    Did you notice how newspapers disappeared from the convenient stores located in the Metro stations. Very hard to sell a local newspaper to a client when they hand out those free (and rather useless) newspapers in and outside the metro stations. Now add to that the mobile phone access to news, and you can see why the state of the regular local newspapers business has fallen apart.

    And what’s worse is that some of these free local transit newspapers are actually owned by real local newspaper in each market. Talk about cannibalising your own business.

    Just as an example…after last months Federal election, I tried to purchase the Montreal Gazette the day after the election. I was in the metro system. Orange Line. No Montreal Gazette in any store. I finally found a Petro-Canada nearby that actually had a real newspaper for sale. A few copies of Journal de Montreal, and Le Devoir. No Montreal Gazette. And this the day after a major news event.

    How long can any business last with that sort of situation. And no amount of tax payer assistantancewill help this situation out.

    The very least they can do is place a Pay Newspaper box (old School) outside a metro station so that people can have the choice of buying a newspaper if they want.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Just as an example…after last months Federal election, I tried to purchase the Montreal Gazette the day after the election.

      Newspapers tend to sell out the day after a major event like an election. So it’s not too surprising it was difficult to find one.

      The very least they can do is place a Pay Newspaper box (old School) outside a metro station

      Montreal doesn’t allow exterior newspaper boxes like this, which is why they don’t exist in the city.

      1. Anonymous

        News box at one of the corners at St-Denis & Sherbrooke E.
        It’s for the freebee newspaper 24H.
        It’s been there for months.

  3. Dilbert

    Free newspapers need two things to survive, which is big enough distribution to justify ad rates, and long term results from those ads to justify re-buys and re-spends.

    The sad fact for free inkies is that most of them don’t get read, or get viewed superficially.

    It’s also incredibly hard for advertisers to measure the true impact of ads in such a paper.

    Online, they know exactly how many people click, how many people visit your site, how many people do whatever it is that they want them to do (buy, share, visit). Advertisers see this as getting better bang for their buck.

    Free daily papers are counting 100% on ad revenue and nothing else. No sale price to offset distribution costs, nothing like that. They also don’t generally have distribution outside of the subway / transit systems that is meaningful. Small target markets?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Online, they know exactly how many people click

      The problem with online advertising is they know exactly how many clicks there are, but they don’t know how many of those clicks are made by people.

      1. Dilbert

        For the most part you do. Click fraud is an issue, but there are certain ways around it.

        As an example, for a local advertiser (one who wants to reach Montreal area specifically and Quebec generally) you could restrict displays to certain IP blocks, to certain languages (as disclosed by the browser), to certain times, and so on. You can also limit repeat views and such.

        After that you can look at things like how the user progresses through your sales channel. Fraudulent clicks have certain patterns (either not doing anything after arriving or clicking first link on the page no matter what), and you can again filter against that.

        While you won’t have an absolutely perfect view, the results you will have are very high percentage actual consumers. From there, you can work to refine your sales pitch or promotion to get the most engagement possible and the best return on investment.

        Printed documents are always worse. It requires the consumer to actively move from one media (print) to online or to in person visit. Certainly the percentage of those who do this will be more of your target market, but you will lose all the casually curious types who might be sold by your pitch if they ever saw it. Online ads encourage a certain level of casual contact that allows marketers to do what they do best.

        In print, they might distribute 200,000 copies, and an unknown number of people might see your ad (maybe very few) and an even smaller subset of that might take action as result. It’s hard to tell if it’s your print ads, word of mouth, physical location, or what have you that got people to your door, unless you do something specific to print that allows you to spot those people (like a price or code only available through the ad). Tracking those consumers is much harder and makes it much harder to measure return on investment or effectiveness of your advertising.

        There is a lot to it. Any major change of technology at the consumer level has winners and losers, and it takes time to both figure out who is winning and how to work with that new technology to contact the consumers more directly.

  4. Dorothy

    What is this really about? Is all the handwringing about what delivery systems work, or don’t, for news?
    Let’s face the troubling fact that no amount of handouts thrown at the industry can repair: the appetite for news is satisfied with grazing, not eating.
    Headlines suffice;social media competes for attention and winning by a landslide. Attention spans are now conditioned to Twitter bursts. Few have the patience or inclination for longform, which is really a good-old-fashioned feature well-done.
    As a telling aside: as a frequent patron of my local library, I’m noticing many books I’m reading haven’t been checked out in, literally, years.


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