Torstar’s The Grid shuts down

UPDATE After three years as a less-alternative weekly, Torstar's The Grid is no more

The Grid 1After just over three years, Toronto’s The Grid newspaper has closed down.

The Torstar property announced Wednesday that its July 3 issue will be the final edition of the publication.

The weekly paper tweeted, “Well, we gave it our best shot. After 162 issues, this Thursday’s issue of @TheGridTO will be our last. We are shutting down immediately.”

It continued, “We’d like to thank our incredible staff and contributors and especially our readers for their tremendous support. This city is the greatest.”

Speaking to Marketing, publisher and editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull attributed the closure to declining print ad sales, low cost-per-impression online ads and a lack of time to develop new revenue generators that The Grid had been testing.

“We ran out of runway,” Turnbull said, explaining the paper had been trying to launch “brand extensions” including events and custom content that he believed could have grown to subsidize the declining print revenues, but it simply ran out of time.

“The future was once thought to be in online display,” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear now that’s not the solution to the problems the industry is facing. It’s going to have to be something much more creative, much more customized.”

He said changes to media buying patterns also hurt the publication. While media buyers once had their years planned as of mid-January, Turnbull said he saw advertisers wait longer to commit media dollars, and in 2014 The Grid was negatively affected by the change.

One of the biggest factors behind The Grid‘s financial crunch was competition from social media, Turnbull said.

“Facebook can serve up ads in quantities and in such a targeted way that traditional media can’t compete with,” he said. “We’re going to have to learn to play in the same sandbox as the big social media giants. If we don’t, basically we’re going to be screwed.”

While most of the paper’s 22 staff members will be let go, Turnbull said he hopes to find positions for some within Torstar. He added that Star Media Group has expressed interest in keeping him within the company and that he is currently “letting the dust settle” before any decisions are made.

He said The Grid considered going online-only, but ultimately found that an inadequate solution.

In an internal memo, John Cruickshank president of Star Media Group, wrote, “we are hugely proud of The Grid, and we now turn our focus toward taking the great innovations and learnings from The Grid and applying them to our portfolio of media brands and products. The Grid has been a tremendous learning experience for us, producing true media innovations that we are already in the process of applying in other areas.”

The announcement of the closure comes less than three months after the paper went through a redesign, switching to a nine-and-a-half inch format and re-thinking of its distribution strategy by moving the paper into condo and apartment buildings. At that time, The Grid also opted out of its distribution through Toronto Transit Commission subway stations to gain a more targeted audience, Turnbull said.

At the time of its closure, the paper’s weekly distribution was 70,000 in print and an average of about 400,000 unique online visitors each month.

The Grid was first published on May 12, 2011. It was launched following the discontinuation of another Torstar publication, the more alternative Eye Weekly.

At the time, Turnbull called the re-imagined weekly a “younger, hipper, more provocative version of Toronto Life.” Since launch, The Grid has targeted slightly older, more affluent readers than its predecessor.

Turnbull later told Marketing that he viewed the paper as a “weekly city magazine” that “couldn’t be any further” from an alternative weekly.

In its short lifetime, the weekly paper was heavily decorated, including being named one of the best designed publications in the world by International Society for News Design. In 2012, Marketing named it one of its top 10 media players.

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