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Free afternoon commuter newspaper joins bustling Toronto media market Add to ...

A new Toronto newspaper hopes to become an innovator in Canada's most competitive media market by drawing on a publishing model that fell out of fashion years ago - the afternoon edition.

Starting Sept. 8, the paper - dubbed t.o.night - will be handed out free every weekday in downtown Toronto for a three-hour period, starting at 3:30 p.m. The daily is the brainchild of John Cameron, a 24-year-old business school grad who says free afternoon papers proved popular with evening commuters in Australia, so why not in Toronto?

"I don't think Toronto could support another free morning paper because it wouldn't be unique enough," he said, referring to the two free morning commuter papers, Metro and 24 Hours. "But the afternoon is open."

The plan for the new afternoon paper, in the works for more than a year, has attracted private investors, including St. Joseph Print, a division of Toronto Life publisher St. Joseph Communications; and Richard Costley-White, owner of Blackburn Radio Inc.

"I invested in t.o.night because I think that print still has a very important, even central, role to play in the local media mix in Toronto," Mr. Costley-White said in an e-mail message yesterday. His company operates several radio stations in Southern Ontario, and his family owned the London Free Press before selling it to the Sun Media chain in 1997.

St. Joseph Print will print the newspaper, which will be magazine-sized and published on glossy paper. Mr. Cameron expects it to be about 20 pages.

He believes advertisers will respond to the afternoon paper, which commuters would be reading while on their way home and mulling over what to watch on TV or what to have for dinner. He says t.o.night will be "the last touch-point before they make these decisions."

Chris Kubas, vice-president of Toronto media consultancy Kubas Group, says t.o.night has its work cut out for it with six daily newspapers already available in the city, along with free Toronto weeklies such as Eye and Now.

"I applaud them for having faith in the print product," Mr. Kubas said. "But in most cases anybody who would probably fit into their target market would probably have seen the stories of day already, either in print or on radio or on Internet once they get into the office."

Mr. Kubas added that t.o.night will be facing serious competition from Metro, which has a circulation of more than 300,000 compared with the new daily's planned run of 100,000. Metro also holds an exclusive agreement with the city to distribute inside subway stations, while t.o.night will rely mostly on hawkers to distribute their product outside of public transit hubs.

While on a trip to Australia, Mr. Cameron, picked up an afternoon daily that was turning a profit - mX, published by News Corp. - and decided it was Toronto's turn.

He and two friends, Gareth Smith and Tom Hyde, are the majority owners of the company that runs t.o.night. He said it will have a staff of about 20, to keep overhead low - and there won't be a reporter among them. All of t.o.night's content will come from The Canadian Press and Associated Press, along with one daily page of content from writers at BlogTO, a well-known Toronto arts and culture blog.

Bill McDonald, group publisher for Metro's operations in English-speaking Canada, says the global daily giant has examined the possibility of an afternoon edition but has dismissed it due to several roadblocks, including how to transport the newspapers through heavy traffic. Metro has launched afternoon editions in Stockholm and Copenhagen, only to see them fold.

"It lasted just for a few months because we simply were unable to get advertisers to move to an afternoon format," Mr. McDonald said. "That was an absolute killer."

He said Metro expects t.o.night's impact will be "limited," adding: "It's not a terrible concept, it's just difficult to ensure it succeeds."

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