Could the end of Publisac kill community newspapers throughout Quebec?

As if things aren’t bad enough for small media outlets, TC Transcontinental announced on Friday it is rolling out its Publisac replacement throughout the province and into areas of Ontario and British Columbia that other flyer distributors have pulled out of.

This is leaving many Quebec publications worrying that what happened to Métro Média could happen to them.

When Montreal announced it was banning flyer distribution bags, and requiring opting in to flyer distribution generally, Publisac owner Transcontinental fought it as hard as they could, then turned to Plan B with the development of Raddar, a bagless flyer distribution system. Besides the online component, Raddar is a newspaper-like product that replaces bundles of paper flyers with a single folded newsprint leaflet of flyers, and is distributed by Canada Post, which conveniently gets around any municipal distribution bans.

The change led to the shutdown of Métro Média, which owned the free Métro paper and community newspapers across Montreal and Quebec City. Other newspapers distributed via Publisac, like The Suburban, also worried about their future, as distribution via Canada Post is more expensive.

On Friday, TC announced it was expanding Raddar throughout Quebec after its “successful launch in Montréal this spring”, replacing the Publisac between February and May 2024.

Hebdos Québec, which represents community papers across the province (many of whom used to be owned by Transcontinental), quickly reacted by saying it’s “an important part of our business model that is disappearing for a very large majority of publishers in Quebec.”

While struggling with sagging local economies, declining advertising, higher inflation, and the Meta news ban, regional newspapers now have to find alternative distribution systems, whether their municipalities have a distribution ban or not.

Hebdos Québec says governments need to step in to prevent news deserts from developing.

In the meantime, alternatives are being considered. ICI Médias, one of the companies that was built out of Transcontinental’s newspaper divestments, says it will deliver to drop-off points instead of individual homes. That’s undoubtedly going to have a negative effect on readership.

Meanwhile, Transcontinental announced Raddar is stepping in to fill gaps that developed in Ontario and B.C. In Ontario, Torstar’s Metroland announced in September it has ceased distribution of print editions of community newspapers and flyers in southern Ontario, and so Raddar is being rolled out in the GTA and Hamilton. Similarly, Glacier Media ceased distribution in greater Vancouver, and Raddar stepped in to replace it in August.

At least for those areas, there are no community papers anymore to complain about how they’ll be distributed.

10 thoughts on “Could the end of Publisac kill community newspapers throughout Quebec?

  1. Anonymous

    “That’s undoubtedly going to have a negative effect on readership.”

    I think they are being less than honest here. If their papers were important and sought after by readers, they would pick it up at the dep for free, or at the end of the street because the content was so interesting, so important, and so compelling that they cannot live without it.

    Reality: local and regional papers have made their income selling distribution. With little proof that the papers are anything more than bird cage liners, they have pushed a narrative of access to the local market. But with a hard to measure, often near microscopic response rate advertisers have often been pressured by the concept of supporting the community, rather than actual results.

    If removing one distribution method is enough to kill the papers, then it’s clear they weren’t that important to the supposed readers to start with.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I don’t disagree that distribution has been the business model of print media for quite a while now, but the idea that 100% of people who read and value newspapers will always take the time to go find them is ridiculous.

      There’s no newspaper that people can’t live without. But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful, whether they’re the Globe and Mail or the Messager Verdun.

      1. Anonymous

        I don’t think it’s a question of 100% of anything, that is a sort of absolute measurement that makes little sense. But if the newspaper had value (and generated value for advertisers) printing it and distributing it as many of the other free papers have done in the past should continue to work.

        Simply put, losing the distribution method that gave them wide but perhaps shallow coverage will put them out of business. So it is easy to imply that there isn’t enough actual value.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          If the newspaper had value (and generated value for advertisers) printing it and distributing it as many of the other free papers have done in the past should continue to work.

          That method works for some, but it’s not going to bring in as much ad revenue as home delivery, and many of these publications are operating on thin margins, so such a drop can be fatal, no matter how good the quality of the journalism. There is no media outlet in the world that is so valuable that it can stop caring how it is distributed.

          1. Anonymous

            Home delivery without readership shouldn’t be as valuable to advertisers as distribution with actual readers. In simple terms, it is the difference between opt in and opt out. The opt out can always claim a bigger number of readers, but do they actually read it? If that difference somehow creates more advertising revenue, then point is proven: Newspapers sell ads based on distribution and not directly of merit / results. This is one of the many reasons advertisers are moving towards more certain advertising methods.

            1. Fagstein Post author

              The opt out can always claim a bigger number of readers, but do they actually read it?

              Most of them don’t. But the number who do will always be larger than the number that will travel to go find a flyer, or the number who choose to opt-in to delivery of them.

  2. Anonymous

    In most cases, they are Newspapers only because they are printed on news print.

    If they really feel that they are worth while newspapers, then they can try placing a news box outside Metro, and train stations, or some other key points, and let people pick them up i f they feel they are worth picking up.

    I’m more troubled about loosing access to the Publi-sac flyers. Our champagne socialist are too above the rest of us who would like to know where the best deals are. They have no concerns about money, since they live off of our money.

      1. Andru

        The flyers in the Public Sac provides a filter of what is available this week. Going online offers no such filter. Example, I would not look to see what the Canadian Tire online site has to offer this week. But a Canadian Tire flyer that shows up with the rest of the flyers, would capture my attention to see if they have something of interest. The same thing applies to other venders whom you wouldn’t consider shopping at, or have never heard of. By killing the Public Sac, they are limiting competition.


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