Two-newspaper city? Try Montreal, with *four*

March 12, 2009

montreal

Here’s a contribution to the newspaper files from my colleague Phil Wahba, born and raised in the city of Montreal:

With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer potentially closing its print edition or shutting down entirely next week, The New York Times wrote today that it is possible that a city of 3.3 million people, and other large cities, might only be able to support one paper.

Contrast that with Montreal, a city with 3.7 million people and four dailies, three French and one English.

According to the Canadian Newspaper Association, three quarters of Montrealers read a printed daily paper every week in 2007. (That rate, in line with the Canadian average, jumps to 82 percent in Winnipeg.)

Montreal’s papers are getting a reprieve from the forces shrinking the newspaper business elsewhere in North America because of the city’s fragmentation. With two major linguistic groups, French and English, and the city split between pro-Canada federalists, and sovereigntists who advocate Quebec’s separation, the newspapers have their niches. That might not last forever, though. Read on:

- The Gazette: Owned by Canwest Global Communications, is the only paper serving Montreal’s 600,000 English speakers. Its Saturday circulation was 150,000 copies in 2007. (In Canada, the largest weekly edition of newspapers comes out Saturday, unlike in the United States where Sunday is the big day.) But circulation has been dwindling for years, and with Canwest, the owner of the largest newspaper chain in Canada, considered a possible bankruptcy candidate, the Gazette’s prospects are uncertain.

- LaPresse: A broadsheet catering to Quebec’s French-speaking, pro-business readers, is read by 280,000 people every Saturday and owned by the deep-pocketed PowerCorporation. But even LaPresse has had to contend with downward drifting circulation in recent years.

- Le Journal de Montréal: The city’s answer to the New York Post, the tabloid is Montreal’s most read newspaper with Saturday circulation of 320,000 copies. But the paper, owned by Quebecor, is in the midst of a lockout because management wants to lay off 75 employees and reduce benefits to save money in the face of falling ad revenue. Quebecor also will drop its membership in the Canadian Press news cooperative (similar to The Associated Press in the United States).

- Le Devoir: The smallest of the papers, the independent Devoir caters to Quebec’s nationalist intelligentsia, but only has a circulation of 45,000. The paper has come to brink of closing several times in its history, and could conceivably suffer the same fate as the New York Sun, the small paper serving New York’s conservative readers that folded in September after investors tired of pouring money into it.

They are also contending with growing free dailies — read by 726,000 people each day– and falling ad revenues, meaning Montreal could become a one-paper town someday.

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The Suburban – The Suburban newspaper a weekly that prints and distributes 135,000 copies across the island of Montreal is the only truly growing newspaper in the area.
Despite the recession and the problems afflicting dailies in North America, the Suburban with its dearth of local news is growing by any measure.
We have just expanded coverage to Vaudreuil and Nouveau St. Laurent, sales are up, and profits are up. In fact we just had two new hires.
Best of all advertisers enthusiastically tell us that we deliver customers to their door.