There was a time when buying a used car meant a trip to the convenience store to buy a thick copy of Auto Trader magazine, almost always prominently displayed next to the cash register.
The magazine has been published from coast-to-coast since the late 1970s. But its owner has quietly decided to stop printing its flagship car and truck publications by the end of June in most markets, and to redirect readers to the Internet.
It's an example of the length that print publications are going to reinvent themselves as readers focus their attention online and advertisers demand more data and analytical information about the value they are getting for their money.
"We've been very pragmatic about our print products," said Jamie Blundell, vice-president of operations at Trader Corp. "We monitor the health in each region, and when it gets below a certain level where it is no longer providing value to the readers and response rates for our advertisers, then it makes sense to discontinue those publications."
The Etobicoke, Ont.-based company published the magazines under different titles depending on the geographic region, but most were a variation of Auto & Truck Trader.
While most regions saw their final copies printed last week, the Maritimes Auto Trader and Quebec's Auto Hebdo will continue to print for the time being.
Other niche titles such as National Heavy Truck and Equipment Trader, National Classic and Antique Trader, and West Coast Boat Journal will continue to print, provided they keep selling. But there's no room for sentimentality when it comes to the printed product.
"If a publication is doing well and providing advertisers responses, then that is fine. But we watch the indicators, and we'll know when we reach the point that we should eventually discontinue publication," Mr. Blundell said.
He said Trader began the transition to digital advertising several years ago, under the guidance of former owner Yellow Media Inc. Margins are higher for online ads, and he said the company is generating steady profits a year after being spun out of Yellow Media Inc. in a deal worth almost $750-million.
Ads in the print version of the magazine started at $38 for a two-week run. Basic online ads are free, but users are encouraged to spend more money to have their ads given better placement on the website. More than three-quarters of its revenue comes from its online operations.
It might make financial sense for the company to push readers online, but it's bittersweet for those who have spent decades flipping through the magazine pages looking for bargains and rare finds. The magazine held a special place among car enthusiasts, many of whom keep a stash of back copies.
"I know all of that stuff is available on the Internet now, but I'd still buy a copy every now and then to see what was out there," said Scott Ferguson, who runs the Fordnutz Cougar Club in Delta, B.C.
Like most car collectors, he relies on the Internet for most of his research. But free sites such as Craigslist can be a headache for car collectors, because it's tricky to weed out scams. Thieves have been known to list stolen property online.
Trader has worked to differentiate itself from the free, and riskier, online offerings. Its site has improved considerably since Yellow Media sold the company to private equity firm Apax Capital, in a deal that Trader's then-president said would see the new owners "invest in the business and enhance our already strong operations."
The Trader site can offer browsers a much deeper level of detail and background information than free sites, Mr. Blundell said, as well as a sense of security that the freebies lack.
And for collectors like Mr. Ferguson, the magazine's digital transition means a new category of auto-related memorabilia. "Maybe I'll keep mine around and see if they're worth something some day," he said.
OFF THE SHELF
Publications which will be shut down by the end of June.
Toronto Auto and Truck Trader
Toronto Bike, Boat & RV Trader
Southwestern Ontario Truck Trader
Southwestern Ontario Bike, Boat & RV Trader
Northern Ontario Auto Trader
Northwestern Ontario Auto Trader
London/Kitchener Auto Trader
Hamilton/St. Catharines Auto Trader
Eastern Ontario Auto, Truck and Bike, Boat & RV Trader
Windsor Auto Trader
Manitoba Auto & Truck Trader
Saskatchewan Auto & Truck Trader
Western Canada Agricultural Trader
British Columbia Auto, Truck and Bike, Boat & RV Trader
Alberta Auto Trader
Alberta Truck Trader
Alberta Bike, Boat & RV Trader