Sun Media Corp. will launch four new weekly papers in Ontario in a bid to compete more effectively with rival Metroland Media Group.
The newspaper chain – which owns dozens of weekly and daily newspapers across the country – said it would close its advertising-focused Smart Shopper papers in Ottawa, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph and replace them with publications that also have news stories in them.
While all newspapers have suffered a loss of revenue from a shrinking advertising market, weekly newspapers are less dependent on large national advertisers than dailies. The move by Sun Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of Quebecor Media Inc. , is expected to lead to fierce battles to lock up both flyer distribution and advertisers in each market.
Sun Media said it decided to make the change to "respond directly to the needs of our valued advertising partners, delivering access to an even stronger flyer distribution in the highly desirable Ontario markets."
"The expansion of our community newspaper network is a bold statement of our commitment to the newspaper industry," said Julia Kamula, executive vice-president for Central Canada. "Adding editorial makes them a quality offering for advertisers."
The new newspapers – the Ottawa Capital City News, K-W Review, Windsor This Week and Guelph Review – will have original editorial content, making them more direct competitors to Metroland, which is owned by Torstar Corp..
Together, the four new papers will account for about 440,000 copies a week.
Metroland bought its main competitor in Ottawa last year, and then folded most of its local newspapers into its own. It also expanded into the Kitchener market, where it has about a one-year head start on Sun Media.
"It's not like they are new to the market," Metroland president Ian Oliver said. "This is really a sign that it's tough to make shopper publications successful and community papers continue to be strong. We just plan to continue to provide the best local news coverage and we are quite confident in our talent."
It's been a busy month for newspaper companies in Canada. Torstar also announced plans to bring its daily commuter newspaper Metro into Saskatoon and Regina. It also announced plans for digital-only papers in Kitchener, Hamilton, Windsor and Victoria.
Metro considered launching paper versions in Kitchener and Windsor, but decided the market likely couldn't justify the additional costs associated with newsprint.
"We'll test the water with the concept, but our feeling is long-term we can only go to a certain number of cities with a full portfolio of products," said Bill McDonald, president of Metro English Canada. "But maybe we're able to go to additional markets beyond those core markets for digital-only products. It's a model that's meant to grow."