Au revoir, print. The venerable Montreal newspaper La Presse has ditched its weekly print publication in favor of a retooled and heavily tested tablet edition and a renewed focus on its Saturday paper, the sole remaining physical edition of the paper each week.
The paper—one of the largest in Canada or the Francophone world—was founded in 1884 and has printed daily editions throughout its existence until, on Jan. 1, publication of the Monday through Friday papers ceased completely, Quartz reported Monday.
Where many newspapers have struggled to balance a newfangled digital format with their daily print publications, La Presse came up with a simpler solution: it simply ditched its print edition and focused completely on digital, a shocking move even in the days of dramatically declining print media revenue. But La Presse did not wait to experiment until after its transition.
The newspaper first announced plans to scrap the daily print paper in 2010 and spent the following six years beta testing, researching and creating more than a dozen tablet-focused editions before finally settling on a model similar in design to a traditional daily paper. Rather than featuring a typically digital continual roll of endlessly updating news, the tablet app—dubbed La Presse+—will feature a single edition each morning that can be read throughout the day, and only connects to the paper’s website for breaking news updates. What’s more, the app will be free.
The major incentive for the move was, of course, based on falling ad sales. Even in its print heydey, almost half of La Presse’s revenue came from advertising in its Saturday edition while its weekday circulation barely provided any revenue for the paper, allowing the scrapping of weekday print with some financial cover for the paper’s owners, the Power Corporation of Canada.
The newspaper plans to crack down on annoying advertisements that might drive readers away, too: “no aggressive formats, no pop-ups, no pre-roll for video capsules, no video starting automatically at full volume,” according to a press release.
With the La Presse+ app included, the paper claims a weekday readership of nearly 500,000, compared to just 100,000 for the old print editions. Its readership has gotten younger, too: 65 percent of readers are aged 25 to 54, hardly the traditional demographic bracket for newspaper readership.
Still, it isn’t all bright skies for the Montreal paper. The Globe and Mail, a major Toronto daily, reported soon after La Presse made the digital announcement that the paper would cut its staff by 158, including around 100 employees whose jobs were directly tied to the print edition. Additionally, 43 newsroom staff will be let go.
Guy Crevier, La Presse’s president and publisher, told The Globe and Mail that a major part of the layoffs came about due to the actual launch of La Presse+, ending the long “development mode” that had required more employees and roughly $40 million in investment from the paper’s parent company.
The La Presse+ app currently accounts for around 80 percent of La Presse’s total revenue stream, and attracts roughly 250,000 readers per day. The paper is saving around $30 million in operating costs.
La Presse+ “is attractive but sometimes appears to be light on content,” Alan Freeman, a former deputy Canadian finance minister and longtime financial and foreign affairs commentator, wrote in an op-ed on the Canadian political website iPolitics.ca.
Mr. Freeman also criticized La Presse for leaving older readers unfamiliar with tablet technology by the wayside, although La Presse has advertised its transition extensively in the hopes that older readers can adjust to the change.