La Presse takes big gamble with launch of free tablet edition

Montreal-based La Presse has launched tablet edition of the French daily today for free, after investing $40 million. 

Montreal-based La Presse has launched tablet edition of the French daily today for free, after investing $40 million. 

At a time of economic restraint, job losses and paywalls at other newspapers to make up advertising revenue shortfall, La Presse is taking a gamble in offering its tablet for free and hiring more than 220 employees, including 120 journalists, to work on the project, the Canadian Press reported.

Publisher and president Guy Crevier said in a statement that “La Presse+ is being offered on a free-subscription basis, because we believe in the irreversible phenomenon of the availability of information free of charge on digital platforms.”

“Paywalls may be fine for some, but have you ever seen any number that shows you these newspapers are able to attract young people? No, you never do,” Crevier told The Globe and Mail. “And that’s why we need to completely reinvent the business model.” 

In the press release, he added the launch is a “significant milestone,” and the iPad is the most widely used tablet device among our subscribers, and the most popular in Québec.

“After three years of research and development, we are proud to offer users an innovative digital edition that will redefine the way they get their information, while maintaining La Presse’s DNA in terms of content quality,” Crevier said in the press release. “La Presse+ is an exceptional tool that enriches and expands upon the quality and depth of the news experience. We chose the iPad for its outstanding content-presentation abilities and its potential as an advertising vehicle.”

La Presse has a daily readership of more 820,000 readers, while the website averages 2.7 million. The daily digital edition will be delivered at 5:30 a.m. seven days a week and will feature exclusive content from new columnists joining the paper as well as video content. Users will also have exclusive access to a brand-new section, Pause (“Break”), published Monday to Saturday with a different theme focus each day, from lifestyle sections like food, health, family and fashion.

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La Presse is part of the Gesca chain, which is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate Power Corp. The Canadian Press reported the "paper expects to have 400,000 viewers per week by year-end," and it says "lost subscription revenues will be more than offset by advertising." 

Drew McReynolds of RBC Capital Markets told the Canadian Press that "an interactive experience that doesn't just replicate print versions of newspapers could be a winning formula."

He added, "To me it makes sense but is probably experimental at this point and I would say the jury's still out as to what extent it can all be monetized."

According to the Globe and Mail, La Presse has developed 26 ad templates that will make it easier for advertisers to place their into the tablet edition and produces data that can tell advertisers how users are interacting.  "A car maker," The Globe suggested as an example, "may choose the template that allows readers to spin its car 360 degrees just by touching the screen."  

The Globe also reported that ZenithOptimedia Canada chief executive officer Sunni Boot finds "early indications from advertisers are encouraging." 

“Consumers are well ahead of the industry in terms of how we are serving them ads in the printed medium,” Boot told the Globe. Her company buys advertising space in media on behalf of its clients. “There is a great receptivity to something like this … it gives advertisers a chance to catch up to where consumers are already at and experiment a little bit to find out what gets traction,” she added.