November 4, 2014 Last Updated 2:12 pm

Second look: Quebec newspapers lead the way on tablets, will other newspapers follow?

La Presse+ and Montreal Gazette for iPad show there may be better alternatives for newspaper tablet apps than either the NYT or replica model

It is the nature of the news business to always report on what’s new and rarely look back at the important events of the recent past. In the digital publishing business it has been, these past four years, a roller coaster ride – from anticipation and excitement, to experimentation and encouraging results, to disappointment and concern.

While the magazine business has fully committed to producing digital editions for tablets, the newspaper business has been far less adventurous. The New York Times, which was among the first to launch an app for the iPad, has done little with it beyond add content and update its look and programming. Anyone looking at the app in April 2010 would recognize it today. Most others have either followed the NYT’s example of using tablets to simply reformat their website content, or else produced replica editions of their print newspaper. The Washington Post’s app for the iPad does both.

LaPresse-iPad-frontpage-lgBut in Canada, La Presse and Postmedia Network have moved on. La Presse, a Montreal newspaper of around 122,000 daily circulation, launched their iPad app, La Presse+, in April of last year after spending $40 million to develop the app over a three year period of time (they must have bought the development from a defense contractor).

TNM has written about La Presse+ six times over the past year and a half, writing about its minor updates mostly to continue to keep the digital newspaper top of mind. The app just felt that important.

Back in May the paper said that the app had been downloaded 490,000 times and accounted for 30 percent of the company’s revenue. This year an Android version was launched into Google Play.

What makes La Presse+ so special, beyond its price tag and the number of downloads, is that the paper appears committed to a digital future – one without print, and its tablet edition will be at its center.

“It was clear from the start when we started La Presse+ that the business model of print newspapers had an end, but we don’t know when exactly that will happen. No decision has been made at this point,” La Presse’s vice-president of communications, Caroline Jamet said earlier this year.

Although the iPad app has received a fair number of negative reader reviews inside the Canadian iTunes App Store, the vast majority of reader ratings are positive – and unlike many media apps, it appears La Presse+ has survived the release of iOS 8 unscathed.

(There is a lesson here, a publisher can ignore the few negative reviews if overall the ratings are good – readers will complain over a wide range of things beyond the app itself, like price, download speeds and the presence of advertising. If both the reviews and the ratings are bad, though, something is wrong.)

Two weeks ago another Canadian newspaper company took the plunge and launched an important new iPad edition. The Montreal Gazette, a Postmedia Network newspaper, launched an afternoon tablet edition as part of its overall rethinking of its publishing strategy. Along with the afternoon digital edition, its print edition and mobile apps were redesigned.

MontrealGazette-icon-featureMontreal Gazette for iPad is a bit less unique as it is patterned after a similar launch at another Postmedia newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen. But it was more high profile as it was part of this new, re-imagined strategy. Also, unlike La Presse+, the new app for the Montreal Gazette does not carry a high price tag as it uses the Adobe DPS to create an app like any consumer magazine might – though one designed in landscape.

Unfortunately, the timing of the app’s release might have been unfortunate: like other Adobe DPS media apps, readers are finding bugs. The original app was released on October 21, the day after Adobe updated its platform, so an update may be needed.

(Update: 24 hours after writing this, the app update came. Good job.)

Because the app is so new, there have been far less reviews from readers, though they are running slightly more positive than negative.

Other, similar apps will be launched by Postmedia for its other newspapers – the Calgary Herald my be next.

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