Publisac flyer service shutting down in Quebec, leaving local newspapers in limbo

For decades, weekly newspapers across the province have depended on the door-to-door Publisac service to bring local news to Quebecers' doorsteps, packaged in a plastic bag alongside grocery store flyers.

End of delivery could herald death of free newspapers that rely on it for distribution

A bag of flyers hangs from a mailbox.
Across the province, local free newspapers rely on Publisac to reach their readers. But the calls to stop the delivery of plastic bags full of flyers have led the company to announce its end. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

The owner of Quebec's main flyer distributor says it is ending a 45-year-old service, forcing more than 50 beleaguered local newspapers to rethink their strategy as well.

The Montreal-based packaging and printing company TC Transcontinental says that starting in May it will scrap the flyer bundles — known in Quebec as Publisac — currently distributed to well over two million households outside Montreal as part of a shift to a thin leaflet delivered by Canada Post.

Weekly newspapers across the province have depended on the door-to-door Publisac service to bring local news to Quebecers' doorsteps, packaged in a plastic bag alongside grocery store flyers.

Renel Bouchard, president of Icimédias which owns more than 20 print and web-based papers across the province, says it now aims to overhaul its distribution plan by delivering editions to select drop-off points — such as local businesses and nursing homes — rather than houses.

Nonetheless, Bouchard remained upbeat.

"According to our figures, 60 to 65 per cent of copies delivered to homes are actually read, whereas at a drop-off point almost 100 per cent of copies will be taken by people who want to read them," he said in a release.

Some weeklies in the U.S. have also found success with the drop-off point model, he added, citing an unnamed paper in Burlington, Vt. with a circulation of 30,000.

Publisac suffered a major blow in May after Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said flyers would be delivered only to residents who request them, representing a win for environmentalists and prompting criticism from TC Transcontinental.

The move also became the last straw for Métro Média, which declared bankruptcy in September, permanently ending hyperlocal coverage by its more than 30 publications in the province's two largest cities.

TC Transcontinental said its new leaflet, dubbed Raddar and already in circulation to one million households in the Montreal area, will greatly reduce the volume of paper used and include a digital version.

"At the same time, we regret the impact of the end of Publisac on several weekly newspapers as well as on our distribution partners" — the company has 140 — said Patrick Brayley, a vice-president at TC Transcontinental, in a release.

"Given recent and expected regulatory changes for distribution and their operational and financial impacts, the Publisac model had to evolve."

In Quebec, Raddar will be rolled out between February and May.

Starting next week in Ontario, the leaflets will land outside one million doors in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area formerly served by community newspaper publisher Metroland Media Group.

In September, Metroland — unrelated to Metro Media — announced it would seek bankruptcy protection and shift to an online-only model as one of the country's largest media conglomerates shut down community news titles. The move meant nearly 70 local papers were lost in Ontario and more than 600 employees lost their jobs.

TC Transcontinental said the Raddar pamphlets will also reach more than 300,000 households in the Vancouver area, where Glacier Media, a large Western Canadian community newspaper publisher, has shuttered news outlets, on top of closures in some other parts of British Columbia.