Sun Media papers to move to pay-per-view model next week in major cities

TORONTO – Sun Media says it will launch a metered pay-per-view system for online readers of its daily tabloids next week.

The newspaper division of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) said beginning Dec. 4, visitors to its Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg Sun websites will encounter a metered paywall, which allows a certain amount of views per month for free.

The chain is asking users to pay 99 cents per month for the first three months and $5.99 per month thereafter. All Sun subscribers will receive a complimentary online subscription.

Visitors to the site will still have unlimited access to some content such as breaking news, blogs, the daily Sunshine Girl photo and can peruse up to 20 “premium” articles each month for free.

Sun Media said premium content includes in-depth local news, columnists, live sports commentary, Sunshine Girl videos and investigative journalism.

The chain’s Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec introduced a metered paywall system in September.

“Today marks another important milestone in Sun Media’s digital transformation and its commitment to delivering the quality and reliable journalism our readers expect and deserve,” said Pierre Karl Peladeau, president and CEO of Sun Media.

Like Sun Media, many news organizations in Canada and the U.S. are increasingly turning to paywalls, as well as job cuts, for ways to shore up the bottom line as they struggle with declines in advertising revenue and circulation.

But as more papers opt for a digital subscription platform, questions linger about whether readers are prepared to buy into the media industry’s new model, especially since its practically unproven in Canada.

Earlier this month, Quebecor Inc. announced it is cutting about 500 jobs at its Sun Media newspaper division in a move that includes closing two production facilities in Ontario. The cuts represent some 10 per cent of Sun Media’s workforce and are part of an effort to reduce annual costs by $45 million.

Torstar (TSX:TS.B), owner of the Toronto Star newspaper and other dailies, has already implemented a paywall at some of its papers and has announced its flagship daily will be moving to the model in the new year.

The Globe and Mail recently introduced a metered paywall as well.

National Post owner Postmedia (TSX:PNC.A) (TSX:PNC.B), which also owns numerous city dailies, became the first major Canadian media organization to roll out its own paywall structure earlier this year, in an effort to help tighten its quarterly losses.

Sun Media has 36 paid-circulation daily newspapers and six free daily newspapers.

Quebecor also has almost 200 community newspapers, shopping guides and other specialty publications. In addition, it provides commercial printing and related services as well as distribution for newspapers, flyers and magazines.

The company’s shares were unchanged at $37.69 Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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