17 February 2016
In January 2016 the French-language Canadian newspaper La Presse scrapped its print edition on weekdays to go all digital. Their free tablet edition "La Presse +" has been a real success so far, receiving positive response from both the readers and advertisers. Could this be the solution to a newspaper industry in decline? In this interview, Guy Crevier, president and publisher of La Presse, tells us about the paper's transition to digital and how it impacted their newsroom.
You are the first major daily newspaper in the world to kill your weekday print edition. Was this decision easy to make? When did you adopt this strategy?
In 2009, younger consumers were less and less interested in reading print newspapers and La Presse’s readership was slowly getting older. Renewing our readership with younger readers became a priority to remain a mass medium. In addition, in an industry faced with lower circulation trends and decreasing advertising revenues, we were already convinced that the printed newspaper business model was not sustainable in the long term.
In order to pave the way to our future, we developed an engaging digital edition for tablets combining the best of print, Web, mobile and video in order to maintain, and indeed improve, the quality, depth, richness and diversity of our content. We chose to develop our app for tablets because of its outstanding content-presentation abilities, its penetration and its enormous potential as an advertising vehicle.
La Presse+ free-subscription digital edition for tablet was launched in 2013 and, since then it has been a great success with readers and advertisers. In September 2015, thirty months after its launch, La Presse+ was already a better performing media than our traditional newspaper La Presse which has been around for 131 years. On the heels of this success and after having maintained a print and a digital platform for two and half years, we decided to take the next step towards our business model transformation and cease our weekday printed edition on 1 January 2016. The Saturday print edition is maintained.
Photograph courtesy of La Presse
Six weeks after the end of the weekdays print edition, what’s the general feeling at La Presse and how has the audience’s response been so far? In terms of traffic and engagement?
In terms of daily circulation, an average of almost 250,000  unique tablet users consult La Presse+ every weekday. By comparison, in its 131 years of existence, the daily circulation of La Presse weekday print edition peaked in 1971 at 221,250  copies. Like a great many North American daily newspapers, this was followed by a slow and continuous decline. However, in 2003, access to a new, more modern printing plant, combined with a total makeover of the newspaper’s design and content, enabled the paper La Presse to regrow its circulation to reach 207,769  copies by 2009. The current circulation of La Presse+ has surpassed the circulation peaks attained by the print edition of La Presse.
In terms of readership, 100,000  additional tablet readers have made La Presse+ part of their weekly news routine since the announcement of the end our weekday print edition in September. That significant rise in readership of 22% over four months capped off a year of outstanding growth and brought our weekly readership total to more than 580,000 tablet readers.
Graphic courtesy of La Presse
Our readers spend an average of 40 minutes  a day browsing their weekday edition, a remarkable level of engagement unique in the digital news media world. La Presse+ also attracts and builds the loyalty of people of every age, but mainly of active adults aged 25 to 54, who make up 63%  of its readership (versus 46% for the print edition). These results translate into advertising rates (CPM) comparable to that of print.
And what about the advertisers? Are they following your strategy?
La Presse+ is a success with advertisers, who have quickly adopted it as a highly effective and measurable medium for reaching top-quality target audiences. Ad revenues from our digital platforms already account for more than 88% of La Presse’s total advertising revenues. La Presse+ alone generates more than 75% of La Presse’s total advertising revenues.
Photograph courtesy of La Presse
Who complained about the end of the print edition during the weekdays? Only the elderly? Do you have an analysis of all the comments you received in the last six months?
Right from the launch of La Presse+ in 2013, we communicated our intentions to our readers to eventually put an end to the paper edition. We also explained the challenges our industry is currently facing and our strategy to maintain La Presse in this context. We also developed various tools to accompany them during their migration to La Presse+. When we stopped the weekday print edition in January, of course, some readers were unhappy with our decision but a vast majority of our readers had already switched to La Presse+. All in all, we received fewer negative comments than we expected which indicated that our readers were ready.
Guy Crevier, publisher of La Presse. Photograph courtesy of La Presse
You will be a speaker at the GEN Summit this June. What will be the criteria for saying "we were right" or "we were wrong" or "it was too early"?
The excellent performance of La Presse+ in terms of readership, circulation, engagement, profile and advertising revenues are indicators that we were right to create a new digital business model. La Presse+ has known constant substantial growth for almost three years now, while most traditional press is declining.
How much input did the editorial team have in the way the app was built? And your users: how were they involved in the process?
We developed La Presse+ with a blank-page approach with the objectives to fully exploit the multimedia and interactive potential of the tablet and to preserve the La Presse’s newspaper DNA. Our goal was to create a new engaging mass medium and to attract younger readers. The development of the app by our digital team was done hand in hand with the editorial team who, among other things, undertook an extensive storytelling project and was directly involved into a vast research program measuring the user experience and advertising effectiveness with readers prior to the launch. The editorial team also played an important role in making sure the tools developed by our digital team to produce contents were specifically adapted to the processes of a newspaper and flexible enough to adjust to daily news production reality.
Photograph courtesy of La Presse
What changes did you implement within your newsroom in terms of workflow and content production to prepare for this transition? For example, how easy is it for your staff to produce and publish content compared to before?
La Presse has always had only one newsroom that feeds all platforms in content. Since its launch in 2013, La Presse+ is the first priority when it comes to news production. The way information is gathered and the types and quantity of content produced (text, photo, video, graphics, etc) are now aimed at giving the reader an optimal in-depth multimedia and interactive experience in La Presse+. After the La Presse+ edition is completed, the content is adapted for the website, mobile applications and the Saturday newspaper.
With the La Presse+ project, the newsroom also adjusted its content, without forgetting the La Presse DNA and our core readers, in order to make it more appealing to a younger readership. This led to the creation of new sections like “Pause”, a lifestyle section, and “Techno” and also a new way to treat subjects in every section. Also, a new step was added to our morning content planning to maximise the potential offered by the platform and propose the best storytelling possible for each story. We then meet with graphic designers, photograph, videographer or data reporter to plan the production of the pieces needed to complete each article.
Why keep the Saturday edition in a print format ?
The Saturday print edition has been maintained because its consultation remains an engaging ritual for our readers and an effective tool for advertisers.
Do you think your new model is applicable to any news organisation thinking of transitioning from print to digital?
Yes. Our publishing platform technology can allow traditional print newspapers and magazines to successfully transition to a sustainable digital business model. It can be a standalone tool to execute a new principal business model or a complementary tool for publications looking to differentiate in the world of digital.
Photograph courtesy of La Presse
Are you selling La Presse+ technology and CMS to other media organisations? Is it part of your business plan?
In May 2015, we created Nuglif, a subsidiary of La Presse overseeing commercialisation, operations and implementation of the La Presse+ platform. Our first client, The Toronto Star (Canada’s largest English-language daily newspaper), successfully launched its digital tablet edition, STAR TOUCH in September. The platform doesn’t include CMS, but connects directly to the clients’ CMS.
Seen from abroad, La Presse gives the impression of a strong leadership and the capacity to motivate the staff with clear goals. What would be your advice to European and Asian publishers and editors?
The transition from a traditional to a digital business requires changes in terms of culture, operations, marketing, etc. and the support of your employees is essential to your success. When we started the La Presse+ project a few years ago, we exposed the important challenges facing the printed newspaper industry to our employees and presented them with our vision to pave the way to the future. We constantly explained how this project was a solution to transform our declining business into a growing one. The La Presse+ project instilled a lot of motivation to our staff who participated in our various efforts to create our sustainable and performing new business model.
Do you have a plan B? Could La Presse ever come back to a print edition during the weekdays?
We are confident in our new digital business model and the ongoing success of La Presse+. We have no intention to bring our weekday print edition back. We have left a declining paper industry and are now in a growing digital media business.
Guy Crevier serves as the President and Publisher at La Presse Ltée, as well as a President at GESCA. He is one of the speakers for the GEN Summit 2016, taking place in Vienna, Austria on 15-17 June 2016.
Localytics, daily average number of unique tablets on weekdays from January 4 to 29, 2016.
ABC, Publisher’s Statement, weekday average for the 6 months ended March 31, 1971.
ABC, Publisher’s Statement, weekday average for the 6 months ended March 31, 2009, excluding lapressesurmonordi.ca. Publisher’s calculations.
Localytics, September 7 to 13, 2015 vs. January 4 to 10, 2016 (1.5 readers per tablet (CROP, January 2015)).
Localytics, spring 2015
CROP, January 2015