Montreal’s La Presse Made the Newspaper Industry’s First Big Bet in the Digital Age: Is It Working?

While the newspaper goliaths were toppling one-by-one, downsizing hundreds and selling off assets that they could no longer afford, Montreal newspaper La Presse took a big bet. It was three years ago and the newspaper invested $40 million to completely scrap its print edition (which, hasn’t yet been completely eradicated) in favour of a cutting-edge digital tablet version.

From a blog publication’s perspective, one must respect a gutsy move by one of the old guard. It’s pretty much inevitable that they’ll all eventually fall, and the first ones that chose to embrace a mainly online presence (and find new ways to make money) should prosper.

On Monday The Media Briefing blog reported from the World Publishing Expo in Berlin that La Presse publisher Guy Crevier was optimistic about his paper’s future.

Apparently, the paper is under two years away from recouping its original investment, and is within “touching distance” of leaving behind its physical newspaper production and distribution costs. Of the original $40 million, $24 million went to staff costs, $8 went to software and consulting costs and $2 million went going towards research.

The free La Presse iPad app has attracted over 300,000 downloads and Crevier said that 800 new readers are joining everyday. In fact, he also claimed that “large numbers of people are buying tablets in order to get La Presse”.

Some of the things the publisher told Media Briefing was typical of a media visionary, or at least someone who recognizes that certain things will never go back to the way they were and is acting fast.

“We wanted to grow again,” he said. “news available free of charge is an irreversible phenomenon.” Implementing a paywall, like so many other papers of done, didn’t fly with La Presse. “This paywall subscription model is obsolete and that’s why we did not opt for it.”

Crevier told the blog that US$25 billion left the North American print advertising market between 2006 and 2011, a reduction of 56 percent. Their audiences, particularly the young, have dwindled rapidly.

“Dailies are in trouble and when your numbers are dwindling in times of economic crisis, you really have to come up with a new model. In a shrinkage environment making money is a lot harder and we really wanted to grow again,” said Crevier.

Their monetization plans evidently fall under smart and interactive ads every three to four pages. Crevier said that when the paper approaches advertisers, they claims to cover a full spectrum of marketing: “from building brand awareness with high impact campaigns, to active consideration as a consumer interacts with an ad, through to purchase as they follow through to buy things online. Crevier claims the newspaper is now able to charge around $16,000 (Canadian) for an ad,” read the Media Briefing.

La Presse currently employs 300 online journalists.

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