La Presse confirms the Montreal daily will stop print edition, go digital only, tablet first

May 16, 2014

No date has been announced yet but the writing is on the wall. La Presse, a 130 year old French-language daily newspaper, will actually stop, at some point, being a ”paper”. Directors of the financial conglomerate Power Corp., who owns La Presse, confirmed yesterday that their plan is to end printing it eventually.

In an ambitious move, La Presse launched an all-free iPad app, called La Presse+, with a lot of multimedia content. The project required a CA$40 million investment and hiring 125 developers and other tech people. It saw the newsroom swell to 325 people.

La Presse+, which also launched on some Android tablets a few weeks ago, was selected as a Tabby Awards finalist in 2013 and went on to win several other awards. It seems to have been a roaring success so far, at least from a readership perspective.

500,000 users -or about 8% of the overall 6M French-speaking population in the Canadian province of Quebec- have downloaded the app. More impressively, according to Localytics figures quoted by the newspaper, 150,000 users spend, on average, 42 minutes reading it each day during the week, and 70 minutes on Saturday.

Advertising revenues -which are the only revenues expected from its bold tablet-first strategy- have not been disclosed. TabTimes only counted 11 paid ads in today’s (Friday) iPad edition but last Saturday’s edition had 106 ads.

La Presse president recently said that tablet advertising now represents 30% of the overall ad revenues. This is far above what most other daily newspapers have reported so far.

Paul Desmarais Jr., chairman and co-CEO of Power, said yesterday at Power’s shareholders meeting that, ultimately, La Presse would no longer be printed. In a following press conference, his brother, André Desmarais, President and co-CEO, said Canadian newspapers have seen a huge drop in national and retail advertising over the last two years.

He acknowledged that La Presse is not a worldwide news brand and, as such, can’t hope to survive behind a paywall like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

He said the market would decide when to stop the printing presses and envisioned a scenario where print editions would remain for some time on a few days -maybe on Wednesday and Saturday. This transformation will come with job losses.

The long term future of the other six regional daily newspapers owned by Power, Including Le Soleil in Quebec City and Le Droit in Ottawa, is in doubt. They should “redefine” themselves, said André Desmarais, presumably by converting into tablet apps, or they risk facing extinction.

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