Rivalry is bad for business. That’s the lesson learned in the wake of the recent merger between Edmonton’s former newsstand foes, alternative weekly newspapers SEE Magazine and Vue Weekly. British Columbia publisher Bob Doull bought Vue, an independent paper, from old friend and founder Ron Garth in January 2011. Garth has been Vue’s publisher since its inception in 1995. Then in May, Doull acquired SEE from St. Albert-based Great West Newspapers LP. The company, headed by Duff Jamison, also publishes the St. Albert Gazette, among others.
Doull currently owns 13 newspapers in B.C., according to an Edmonton Journal report. He consolidated his Edmontonian conquests under the company Postvue Publishing LP. He said the amalgamation is a product of the city’s fragmented newspaper market.
The two alternative weeklies were preoccupied with competing with each other,” he explained. They were oblivious that commuter dailies such as Metro Edmonton and 24 Hours Edmonton had begun to attract some of their market share, he added. I made (Great West) a business proposition that I think made sense for them,” Doull said. “Everyone…gets benefits out of the whole thing. Great West is now printing Vue. We also have a cordial relationship with (lifestyle and entertainment weekly) the Georgia Straight in Vancouver. We’re looking for ways to be a strong competitor.
Contention crept into the alt-weekly market in the mid ’90s after Garth, then-owner of SEE, was driven out of the paper, according to Edmonton entertainment website Gig City (www.gigcityca). In retaliation, he started a strikingly similar paper called Vue. Unlike SEE, which had been purchased by Great West (a division of Hollinger Inc. at the time), Vue boasted the tag line “100% Independent”.
The new publication will keep the Vue Weekly title and will remain independent. Eden Munro will remain its editor. Jeff Holubitsky, who was publisher and editor at SEE, will not be a part of the operation.
(Holubitsky) left when we bought SEE because there was going to be a lot of change and it wasn’t really for him. He had already retired once,” Doull said. “Out of respect for Ron (Garth), he continues to have the title (of publisher).
Garth imagines his new role will be very similar to his old role, in which he always sought to empower his employees.
You sort of get on the same page and work towards an end,” he said. “In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve (always tried to) find good people and get them involved. I don’t know if that’s much of a management role, but it’s been like that for years and it’s been really effective.
Garth described the merger as an ongoing process that will require many tweaks.
There are all sorts of changes, some you expect and some you don’t expect…but as far as the major changes go, they’ll be brought in over a period of time,” he said. “It’s not an overnight thing.”
Doull wrote in a statement on www.vueweekly.com, the initial plan was to operate both SEE and Vue until a team could be assembled to carry out a “soft merger”. However, demand from readers, contributors, advertisers and suppliers caused the integration to happen more rapidly.
The merged publication will retain both papers’ editorial strengths. Readers will now get the new issue on Wednesdays, instead of Thursdays. The paper will also be more accessible, with 1,700 new distribution points.
We’ve quadrupled the sales force, and we now have each publication’s…supplementary titles…under one roof, for example, (SEE’s) Best of Edmonton,” Doull said.
Circulation has also increased. Prior to the amalgamation, Vue’s weekly circulation was 23,000 and SEE’s was 19,000. The new publication circulates 30,000 copies per week.
We’re running out on the newsstands, so we may have to increase that again. Ideally, what you want is one paper returned from each newsstand,” Doull said.
Vue has held on to many advertisers, and gained interest from national advertisers who overlooked the market before because they didn’t want to “split their buy”, he explained.
Online readers may notice some changes to the publication, as Doull brought in a new development company in mid June. However, social media will not play a larger role.
We’re in the business of newspaper publication,” Doull said. “There’s a lot of (talk) about newspapers disappearing, (but) there’s a lot of people who still like to read them, and we’re doing better than we did last year. I don’t see that we need to migrate the publication away from the print format. We support it with social media.
Garth agrees the future of the alternative weekly is strong. He cites the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (of which Vue is a member) as proof.
“These papers occupy a nation across North America. The idea is, it’s an alternative to the main take on dailies and weeklies… There’s a place for that type of journalism,” he said.
Vue is also assessing whether it will join the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association.
“They have a lot of rural ads (papers have to carry),” Doull said. “You’re not going to sell your tractor in Vue. Readers probably won’t be primarily interested.”
But they are generally happy with the paper’s new direction.
“Some people definitely will miss the rivalry. Some people are happy that it won’t be going on anymore because they felt that it held both papers back in some ways,” he said.
For some people, the merger represents an emotional ending.
In a farewell column, SEE writer Fish Griwkowsky talked about his relationship with Edmonton’s arts and music culture.
It’s the longest continuing love story I’ve ever written; a conspiracy of finding the best things in town and shouting them out to the whole world. Thanks for reading, and especially for being, this city’s artistic soul, everyone.
SEE shaped coverage of local events, particularly music, in Edmonton for just shy of two decades. But both papers fiercely spoke up when mainstream media fell silent, and the new publication will continue that tradition.
There’s been a lot of good work done. While some people see it as sort of a bitter, long battle, I’m not so sure that was the case,” Garth said. “The market wasn’t large enough. That’s more of the circumstance as opposed to anything that’s particularly personal. That’s sometimes misunderstood. Certainly there are differences between some people, (but) for the most part, it was two groups of people working hard to do the best job they could.
The amalgamation should have happened sooner, he added. In contrast to Edmonton, the markets that can successfully support two papers, such as New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have millions of readers.
“This was something that was inevitable… So you have to, as far as I’m concerned, accept (the way things worked out). It’s been a long haul, 15 years of competition. Through all of that, there’s some really good people who have worked for both papers and now some are (working together).”