Future of printed newspapers in question as La Presse ends weekday paper

MONTREAL – Another alarm bell sounded Wednesday for the future of print newspapers in Canada when one of the country’s largest and oldest dailies announced the end of its printed weekday edition nearly three years after introducing its free digital tablet edition.

Montreal La Presse, owned by Power Corp., announced Wednesday that the print edition of the 131-year-old French-language paper will only be available on Saturdays after Jan. 1.

Publisher Guy Crevier says the paper will become the world’s first major daily to go completely digital on weekdays as it responds to a permanent shift in advertising spending.

The North American newspaper sector has lost 63 per cent of its revenues — or $29 billion — over the past decade, Crevier said in an interview.

“There is nobody who can survive in an environment like that,” he said.

His newspaper’s digital edition — called La Presse Plus — is more successful than the print edition just 30 months after it was introduced.

More than 460,000 people read the digital paper weekly, Crevier said, adding it’s also a big hit with advertisers. The number of paid print subscribers decreased to 81,000 from 161,000 when the tablet was launched. Most of the remaining readers are expected to go digital.

Three quarters of La Presse’s advertising revenues are expected to flow from the tablet in December, plus 10 per cent from its other mobile and web platforms.

Crevier said there are no plans to end the Saturday print edition, which attracts more advertising and different readers.

Mike Gasher, a journalism professor at Concordia University, said La Presse is leading a “wave of the future” in the newspaper industry.

“It’s certainly a bold move,” he said, adding that while some older readers may prefer the printed paper, younger people want to get their news digitally.

Gasher believes there’s still a place for printed newspapers — although like television, radio and cinema before it, they need to evolve and find their niche.

Jacques Nantel, a marketing professor at the University of Montreal’s business school, said La Presse is ending the printed edition because it’s now confident that advertisers will follow to the tablet.

He expects the newspaper will now essentially force reluctant advertisers to come on board.

Nantel said La Presse’s move is a sign of changes to come in Canada.

“La Presse is certainly a beacon that other editors are watching very closely,” he said, noting that the Toronto Star, Le Devoir and Montreal Gazette are pursuing their own tablet editions. “It’s only a matter of time now. They’re really trendsetters by doing that.”

Indeed, the decision to end the weekday paper comes a day after the Toronto Star launched its own free digital tablet with the help of La Presse.

The Star and La Presse also announced Wednesday that Olive Media, their digital advertising joint venture, will cease operations in January after nine years. Digital advertising sales will return to the respective paper groups Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. and Square Victoria Digital Properties Inc.

The change will affect about 70 employees in Toronto and 12 employees in Montreal. Some Toronto employees will be absorbed by Star Metro Media and the entire Montreal staff will be absorbed by La Presse.

Despite all the changes, Nantel believes there will continue to be a few printed newspapers in 50 years, but they will be considered luxury products with high prices.

He also doesn’t see anything unique about Quebec’s newspaper market compared to English Canada.

“Editors have been trying to find the right recipe to make money by selling news … I think La Presse, because they’re backed up by a powerful financial group, has been able to do that experiment, but you could have seen the same experience in Toronto through the Globe and Mail or in Calgary.”

Torstar and the parent company of La Presse hold investments in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail.