La Presse prints last weekday edition, places its bet on its La Presse+ tablet app
The French-Canadian newspaper takes the bold step of shuttering its Monday through Friday print edition, and will now reach readers through its innovative La Presse+ tablet app, as well as online and thorough its mobile app
Three or four years ago one might have predicted this, that a newspaper would make the leap into a digital future by shuttering its print edition and relying on its tablet edition to reach subscribers. But during the last three years, as Apple stopped maintaining (then closed) its Newsstand, the question became not whether publishers would depend more and more on tablet editions to reach readers but whether they might abandon them altogether.
La Presse, therefore, it is less the leading edge of a movement, but a bit of an outlier. When many magazine and newspaper publishers have seen their digital edition circulation flatten out or even fall, the French-Canadian daily has seen their digital circulation grow from ‘not reported at all’ in early 2013 to over 180,000 in the paper’s last statement. Even more impressive, the paper says that since it announced in the fall that it would shutter its weekday print edition, 70,000 new readers now look at its digital product each week.
“Consumer habits have changed dramatically in recent years and the majority of our readership now choose La Presse+ for information,” Guy Crevier, President and publisher of La Presse told readers this morning though the La Presse+ app and the paper’s website. “Since we informed you of the end of the print weekday paper in mid-September, the weekly readership of La Presse+ has increased dramatically.”
“We feel that this is more the way of the future,” said Caroline Jamet, vice-president of communications, told The Globe and Mail. “A mostly black-and-white, two-dimensional paper with no interactivity is just something that less and less people are interested in.”
Is this true? I know that four years ago I would have bet on it. One simply cannot compare the experience of a native digital edition with a print product, I concluded. But publishers, by and large, did not see the value of digital editions, even as they told their shareholders and others that they were moving towards a digital future. Most digital editions are either replicas of print or else actually reformatted versions of the print product’s website.
The claim many make is that readers simply are not that interested in these tablet editions, but then again since they are most often presented with impossible to read replica editions, it is hard to say whether this is really true.
So, today we see publishers move increasingly in two directions: disaggregating their content into little bits that are consumed in new digital products such as Facebook’s Instant Articles, Apple News or Flipboard, or else proclaiming the resurgence of print (while still claiming to be digital-first). The third option, creating a truly native digital product that can replace the print product, is rarely the chosen path (and one reason why when the decision is made to shutter the print product there is no digital alternative waiting in the wings other than the product’s website).
La Presse is, therefore, less the harbinger of a new direction for print newspaper, than a brave experimenter. The only other newspaper that I could move in the same direction would be the Toronto Star, which in October launched StarTouch, its own tablet edition app built off the La Presse+ system. But as Canada’s largest newspaper in print, it probably would not choose to go in this direction for quite a while, though it is obvious that the paper will be looking closely to see if La Presse’s gamble pays off.
“What we see with them is that they’re really brilliant operators,” John Cruickshank, publisher of the Toronto Star. told the CBC. “They’re courageous, they’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and money into the tablet app really early on.”
Of course, with such a radical change in direction will come displacement. In September, La Presse announced that 158 positions would be eliminated, 108 of them full-time positions. The layoffs still left the paper with a larger newsroom than it had in 2011, Crevier said at the time.
“We are aware that replacing the print edition of La Presse with La Presse+ on weekdays may disappoint some readers,” Crevier said today. “However, the media industry is not the only area to undergo profound changes due to the mass adoption of new technologies. In recent years, many industries have also had to adapt their business model to meet the changing needs of their customers (music, banking, telephony, buying and renting movies, etc.). We understand the attachment readers have to the print version of our newspaper and regret that the future model we have chosen to follow does not allow us more to provide a paper version during the week.”
On a personal note, today should be the day TNM beats its own drum and proclaims some sort of victory. 987 days ago TNM first wrote about the La Presse+ app, calling it “brilliant”. TNM has since mentioned the app at least 12 other times, including a guest column from Joan Brehl, VP and General Manager, AAM Canada, on the digital certification of the app for advertisers.
But the reality is that the tablet edition overall is in far worse shape today than it was when La Presse from launched its innovative app. Only a handful of publishers continue to strongly believe in the tablet, with even Apple moving away from promoting the iPad as an interactive reading device and more as a creative tool.
Nevertheless, New Year’s Eve 2015 sees at least one publisher moving in the direction TNM would have predicted years ago. Can or will others dare to follow? Is this move a sign of the failure of print or the success of digital? I don’t believe we can honestly come to a conclusion right now. But 2016 promises to be a pivotal year in both print and digital, with many of those who base their careers on promoting the enduring value of print over digital claiming that 2015 was the year print made its big comeback. We’ll see how they feel about that come New Year’s Eve 2016.