Free daily t.o.night to launch in September

Targeting transit commuters, the afternoon/evening paper tries to get in on the robust free daily market in Toronto - but Metro isn't fazed.

A new daily publication targeting afternoon and evening rush hour commuters will launch in Toronto on Sept. 8. Known as t.o.night, the daily will have an initial print run of 100,000 copies and be distributed between 3:30 and 6:30 pm at public transit stations. A portion of the copies will be handed out by paper boys and girls, dressed in poorboy caps and white oxford shirts yelling ‘Extra! Extra!’ in order to attract more attention to the headlines and the brand, explains John Cameron, managing director, t.o.night.

‘Because the majority of our news is provided by the newswires, we don’t have to have that staff that newspapers have. And so it allows us to be a much more lean operation and to be frank that’s what you have to be these days,’ Cameron tells MiC, adding that he estimates the paper’s staff to be under 20 people.

t.o.night will take content from Canadian Press and local blogs such as Blog T.O., says Cameron. It will have an editorial focus on news, entertainment and to-do lists, laid out on magazine paper (38-lb lightweight coated, 8 ½ by 10 ½). ‘Transit riders can hold it in one hand. They can hold the subway pole and read it at the same time,’ says Cameron. ‘For advertisers they love it too because their ads just pop.’

‘I think that it’s a really good idea because people are not doing anything when they’re on the subway for that 20 minutes,’ says Brenda Bookbinder, VP print director, PHD. ‘But those things sometimes can be a challenge,’ she says.

Bookbinder has concerns that it is a very local distribution that national clients may not want to take advantage of – yet. ‘Our advertising dollars are pretty tight now. With a lot of global clients the budgets have been cut back a little bit and so the planners have to be very careful about where they’re spending their money. With this being a unproven venture, and certainly with the fact that it was already tried with the Toronto Star, albeit as an email that was sent to people, it just didn’t take off in the way that the papers did in the morning,’ she tells MiC.

St. Joseph Print is an equity investor and also the printer of the publication, and the other major investor is Richard Costley-White, head of Blackburn Radio. (To clarify, Cameron explains St. Joseph media division is not involved in the paper, and it’s a holding company of Costley-White’s that is investing, not Blackburn Radio).

Cameron was inspired to launch a free evening daily after his travels to England and Australia, where similar publications exist. With an editorial deadline of 11 am, Cameron says they’ll be able to capture all the key news missed by their free daily competitors like Metro and 24.

But Metro has experimented with an afternoon edition in Europe and the concept failed, says Bill McDonald, group publisher, Metro English Canada.

‘We’ve looked extensively at the concept of an afternoon edition,’ McDonald tells MiC. ‘In fact, Metro has actually tried this in at least two cities – Stockholm and Copenhagen. And they were both unsuccessful.’ In Copenhagen, the launch of an afternoon edition about three years ago was driven by an advertising demand and a production limitation, says McDonald. ‘However, what we found was that the advertisers, even though they were demanding to get into the morning edition, did not have the same level of interest in the afternoon edition.’

This is where opinions begin to clash about consumer mindset – McDonald says research shows purchasing decisions are made before 3:30 in the afternoon, Cameron however, says the reason ‘why we believe we can be successful is, we’ll be the last thing 100,000 people see before their make their important purchasing decisions.’

Bookbinder thinks this may benefit the fast food and grocery advertisers, who want to target consumers who are thinking about dinner.

Skepticism aside, the launch of another free daily has caused a bit of a stir in the local market. ‘It’s further illustration of where the free daily market has come. So here we are nine years after Metro launched and certainly the free daily concept is a well-established concept,’ says McDonald. He adds however, that while t.o.night‘s concept of providing more timely news to commuters is interesting, the business seems to be moving more toward mobile and online. To keep up, Metro has recently revamped their web strategy including the recent and upcoming launch of mobile applications.

Cameron asserts that there’s hope for a late edition in the print medium, as long as it’s distributed for free. ‘The TTC doesn’t have cellphone access, doesn’t have WiFi, and basically the TTC doesn’t plan on doing it anytime soon,’ says Cameron. ‘And even if you do have it, those streams…are not friendly on the eye to read. After you’ve had a long day, the last thing you want to do is stare at another computer screen.’

A full-page colour ad in t.o.night costs $2,070 ($1,670 for a buy of 12). September promotions are now on, and the paper will also have a back coupon page, which will cost about $205 per run. McDonald doesn’t think the launch of the paper will affect ad rates because of its relatively small circ (Metro prints about 300,000 copies, at about 48 pages).

‘With spending down dramatically there’s not a high demand for new concepts unless they are so obviously in demand in the market,’ says McDonald. ‘So a great new web strategy or a great new web product, certainly has greater traction in the marketplace today, but in other media it’s a lot tougher.’