La Presse gets ready to roll out its final weekday print edition, not as a sign of failure, but of success with its bold digital strategy
Released four months after Rupert Murdoch shuttered the tablet newspaper, The Daily, the La Presse+ app continues on, remaining part of the publisher’s digital media strategy in 2016
The usual suspects would like us to believe that print is on the rebound and that digital books, magazines and newspapers are on the way out. These folks make a living passing off such nonsense, so there is no sense disputing their predictions. Besides, most of these observers are not publishers themselves but make their living off the speaking fees publishers pay at conferences.
For actual publishers, however, what to do about their print publications, and how to make more revenue and earn profits at digital media, remains the top priorities. Print does, it must be conceded, continue to drive most of the revenue, and a lion’s share of the profits (assuming any profits are to be had).
But many print newspapers and magazines are not currently profitable, so these big questions about print and digital are not some philosophical discussion that can wait for another time. The fourth quarter of this year saw a number of magazines and newspapers shuttered or merged with other titles, with only a few of them keeping their brands alive through their websites. None, that I can recall, were producing native digital editions, so continuing to publish as a digital edition app was not really an option. You can’t make a replica edition of a print product if that print product no longer exists, right?
For some, the viability of digital-only newspapers was decided long ago when Rupert Murdoch invested millions ($30 million is the commonly understood number) in The Daily, the first tablet newspaper. Murdoch tried to reach mostly west coast young, liberal males with a digital newspaper produced by the editors of the NY Post. Yet despite this, it is said that when it was closed within a year, The Daily had 100K subscribers. The NY Post, on the other hand, currently has less than 500K subscribers and has not produced an audit since June of 2014. So, with its tabloid heritage, extreme right-wing politics, it really is amazing that The Daily reached 100K readers (especially since it was closed before the iPad had reached 100 million in sales).
One tablet newspaper, released four months after The Daily was closed, has experienced different results.
I don’t know if La Presse+ will have a major impact on digital media pros in the newspaper industry. It should, and I’d love to hear why this isn’t an important app, maybe they could change my mind. But if I worked at La Presse I’d be very proud of the paper this morning, and more than a little encouraged that the paper was on the right track.
The French-Canadian newspaper, prior to the launch of its digital edition app, had a circulation of around 213K during the week (it also publishes a Saturday edition). At that time it audited no digital circulation. Its latest report, September 2015, shows only just under 92K in print, but nearly 190K in digital, giving it a total circulation of 281K.
The newspaper, from the beginning, said it was very dedicated to its digital strategy, and this September made a rather gutsy call: it would shutter its weekday print editions and go digital only.
“Thirty months after its launch, La Presse+ is now more successful than the print version of La Presse after 131 years of existence,” Guy Craver, President and Publisher of La Presse said in the announcement for the change. “Over 460,000 people have made La Presse+ part of their weekly news and information ritual. At the same time, La Presse+ is a huge success with advertisers, who have quickly adopted it as a creative advertising vehicle—a highly effective and measurable medium for reaching top-quality target audiences.”
That last part, about advertising, may be key. If a digital publication can reach critical mass, have a committed sales and management team, it may be possible to make a success of a digital edition. How many have legitimately tried this approach? Few, other than La Presse. For most publishers, their digital edition is an attempt to maintain their rate base, to save print.
Come Friday, the paper’s final weekday print edition will roll off the presses. In the New Year a print edition will appear on Saturday, and Monday through Friday the paper will exist only on the web and as tablet and mobile apps.
Can La Presse+ prove the naysayers wrong about digital editions? No. Nothing will change the minds of those who make their living promoting print. But who cares about the conference crowd. It is the P&L that counts. And starting in 2016, the publisher of La Presse will put their strategy to the ultimate test.
With only days to go, La Presse has issued a new press release about their big move:
Montréal, Québec – December 28, 2015 – On the heels of the success of La Presse+, its free digital tablet edition, La Presse, Canada’s French-language daily of record, will mark a milestone in its history on January 1, 2016. As of that date, La Presse+ will replace the print version of La Presse from Monday to Friday. The Saturday print edition will be maintained, and will continue to be distributed to subscribers and points of sale.
LA PRESSE+: REMARKABLE RESULTS
Thirty-three months after its launch, La Presse+ is a better-performing mass medium than the print edition of La Presse, with its 131-year history. It enjoys extremely high levels of reader engagement, with average viewing times of 40 minutes on weekdays and 60 minutes on Saturdays.(1) La Presse+ is also renewing readership and lowering the average age of readers in the 25-to-54 age group, who make up 63% (2) of its audience. These remarkable results translate into advertising rates (CPM) comparable to that of print. La Presse+ already accounts for nearly 70% of total ad revenues at La Presse.(3)
“The end of La Presse’s Monday-to-Friday print editions as of January 1 is a watershed moment in our transition to a sustainable digital business model,” explained Guy Crevier, President and Publisher, La Presse. He added: “La Presse is now well positioned as a world leader in daily tablet-based news and information, and the first major print daily in the world to make the shift to 100% digital on weekdays, while supporting a newsroom staff of 283 people. The weekday print edition is being replaced by the La Presse+ digital tablet edition, which is hugely successful with our readers, and offers advertisers a very high quality reader profile and outstanding reader engagement.”
The quality of the platform design, the innovative free-subscription business model and the richness of La Presse+’s interactive content have won acclaim on more than 30 occasions in Canada and around the world since the application was launched in 2013.
(1) Localytics, Spring 2015
(2) CROP, January 2015
(3) Internal data