Post ranks 6th in four-man race.
The latest average weekday GTA readership figures for Toronto's paid and free English-language daily newspapers:
1. Toronto Star, 1,000,000 (+3.4). 2. Metro Toronto (free), 583,000 (+11.7%). 3. Toronto Sun, 533,000 (+9.9%). 4. Globe and Mail, 403,000 (-6.7%). 5. 24 Hours (free), 315,000 (+1.3%). 6. National Post, 191,000 (-11.2%).
From which we are reminded that Toronto is one of the most competitive newspaper markets in N.A. San Diego, Buffalo and St. Louis have one daily. New York has three. Chicago has two. Toronto also boasts thriving Italian, Chinese and other ethnic dailies.
And that the two top papers in Canada's largest city, the Star and Metro, are both affiliates of Torstar, which also has the monopoly on GTA free neighborhood weeklies.
In a market with four paid papers, the Post ranks sixth, behind even the two giveaways.
And that Conrad Black was right, when launching the Post in 1998, that it was the larger Star, and not the Globe and Mail, that his new paper would have to steal from - because that's where the readers were. All the more bizarre, then, that Black hired conservatives to helm the paper and that the Post was relentlessly right wing from the get-go. It was a counterintuitive, and failed, strategy for taking readers from the left-of-centre Star. Indeed, in Toronto, Black chose to join, rather than position the Post against, a market in which two of the three paid papers were (and remain) conservative, splintering the right-of-centre readership among the Globe, Sun and Post.
The Post also is the least-read, and usually fourth-ranked, paper in most of its markets. In Winnipeg, for instance, readers choose among the broadsheet Winnipeg Free Press, tabloid Winnipeg Sun, and the national Globe and Post. In Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa it's the same: the Post competes with two local papers - a broadsheet and a tab - and a rival national paper, the Globe.
As a business proposition, the odds were against a second national paper in thinly populated Canada. The U.S. market, 10 times larger, supports just two genuine national papers - USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. While available in most major U.S. markets, the New York Times derives most of its readership in the tri-state region.
Compounding the difficulty for Black - and he and his Hollinger International shareholders would have known this before Day One - the Post would be competing with a minimum of three dailies in each of its markets. So, in its 12 years the Post has not made money.
This was an avoidable folly. Black acquired a national Financial Post, with a circulation north of 150,000, on which to base a new, general-interest National Post that the market was not asking for. Why not instead acquire the profitable FP and simply embellish it with a few pages of political commentary, to create the neo-con vehicle Black sought? That is what the WSJ had done for decades: 90% business news, 8% right-wingnut editorials and op-eds, 2% for one column each on religion, golf, a book or theatre review. The core audience is happy; you have only the Globe's Report on Business section as a rival; and you have a neo-con platform most readers cheerfully ignore.
The Post is for sale, of course, along with other papers of the now-bankrupt CanWest chain. A return to the FP's all-business status strikes me as the paper's only hope for viability in the hands of a new owner.
(Shown: Inaugural edition of the Post, October 1998.)