This is an edited version of a case study that originally appeared on our Innovate Local website.
By Niklas Jonason

La Presse offers a fascinating case story based on a successful strategy that began with the launch of a tablet edition 11 years ago and led to the closing down of its print editions five years later.


This case raises a crucial question facing many news publishers today: Would you dare to switch off the presses completely?


This article is based on a presentation by François Cardinal, La Presse’s Deputy Publisher and Vice-President, and Q&A-session during the Innovate Local seminar at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Copenhagen.



Background: La Presse and its tablet bet in 2013


La Presse, a French-language daily newspaper founded in 1884 for the Quebec-region and based in Montreal, launched its La Presse+ edition for the Apple iPad.


Rupert Murdoch had introduced The Daily, also designed for the Apple iPad, shortly after Apple launched the device. However, The Daily closed at the end of 2012, after less than 2 years, and just months before the launch of La Presse+.


After Murdoch stopped publishing The Daily, not many other newspaper publishers were betting on the iPad.


​At this time, most newspaper websites were free to use and read, just as La Presse+ was on iPad. In addition to using the iPad platform, three things made La Presse+ contrarian:


The resources behind the La Presse+ on iPad were substantial. It has been said that it took the team at La Presse three years and US$40 million of expenses to develop its first iPad edition.
From early on, the plan was to replace the print product, but in phases. In 2016, only a few years after the launch of La Presse+, print was restricted to Saturdays and shortly thereafter, on 31 December 2017, the last newspaper was printed.
With the free La Presse+ the business model was changed completely, from a paid printed daily newspaper to a free daily digital edition with advertising as the only revenue (except for donations).

All this was bold in every aspect. What were they thinking? And how did it go?


François Cardinal, La Presse’s Deputy Publisher and Vice-President, on stage with Cecilia Campbell during the Innovate Local seminar at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Copenhagen.


2024: Standing strong as a nonprofit digital operation


Today, life after print is on the agenda of many newspapers worldwide.


Some are reducing the number of print days, relying instead on the e-paper, which is a replica of the printed product on a display screen. This was not the vision of La Presse in 2013.


It was not to build on e-paper, but to create an entirely new product. The management had an early very visionary plan of quickly replacing print with a completely new fresh approach of presenting news and, in addition to that, a new business concept.


La Presse is now a fully digital media operation, and Montreal’s largest news media outlet, as well as the largest independent French-language newsroom in North America, with about 220 journalists.


“We report on local, regional, national and international news,” Cardinale said. “You could say that we are a local media. That’s why we are here today. But, for the anecdote; in Quebec, we like to say that we are a national newspaper; the nation being the province of Quebec.”


He added that La Presse is a “UMO,” a kind of Unidentified Media Object, which he said is due to three reasons:

We are a legacy media, however we are completely free.
We are a not-profit organisation (since the same year they ceased print)
Our flagship product is a tablet edition.

From paid to free journalism


Cardinale said their mission remains the same: to provide quality journalism. However, the platforms and content are free and accessible to all and he continues.


“The content is free for business reasons, as well as social reasons. We believe that information is a public asset that must be accessible to everyone, not only to those who can afford it, afford subscriptions, or afford to cross paywalls,” he said.


As the products of La Presse became completely digital and available for free, the organisation also transformed, into a not-for-profit, which means that an important source of revenue is donations.


“We are proud to say we are profitable, even double-digits profits (in percentage terms), for the last consecutive years, which makes it possible to grow reserve funds for rainy days, each year. So it’s been years of a hard transformation, but one that we are proud of and that is completed today,” Cardinale said.


Converting to a non-profit organisation


The conversion to a non-profit was an important part of the transformation, Cardinale said.


“It was part of the whole picture. In parallel with our transformation process, there was talk in Canada about tax credits. However they didn’t want to give tax credits to big, powerful companies like our previous owners, Power Corporation, or such as Thomson Group, or even a foundation. Instead, we made the bet that being a not-for-profit would help us to get some tax credits and convince government that it was a good idea.


“With that, we could also diversify our revenue, to have to collect donations,” he continued. “It was a big bet at the time because the survival of media weren’t like a cause at the time. But we put it on the table. We had some expectations, but today it’s way ahead of what we expected. In 2023, we collect, CA$ 8 million (approximately 5.5 million euros or US$ 6 million) in donations only from readers. So it turns out that people are there to support us even now when we have been profitable for the last four years. It was not about our survival. They are still paying.”


“One interesting thing is that before the transformation, about, 60,000 people were ready to pay,” he added. “We knew that this level of revenue was insufficient to fund the organisation, so we needed advertising as a main source. We have about 60,000 donors. So those who were paying for the subscription before, are also paying today and almost the same amount each year. However 75 percent of our revenues come from advertising still today.”


Maybe thanks to its bold decision to stop print, CPM-prices of ads in the tablet edition quickly surpassed the corresponding CPM-prices of ads in print.


The unique features of the flagship product


Today La Presse “has a website and, of course, a mobile app. The flagship is still the daily tablet app, which today exists for both iPad and Android,” Cardinale said.


“The thing that makes the tablet app unique is the fact that it’s still a morning daily edition (distributed at 5:30 am) with a front page and with sections and games,” he said. “It’s a closed edition, however with more pictures than in print, different designs, interactivity, videos, audio extracts, etc. We say that the tablet app is our flagship because it has the most depth, the best curation, but also the most engagement from readers.”


Mobile is growing in traffic, of course. However, there are so much more articles viewed on the tablet. And the engagement level is really the measure of success;


“It’s our North star,” Cardinale said. “To give you an idea, we can have about 50 million pages viewed in a month on the website, 50 million on the mobile app, however 500 million page views each month for the tablet edition. Also the time spent is much longer for the tablet edition. On average, it’s 40 minutes on weekdays, and on weekends, it’s 50 minutes. A couple of Saturdays ago, we hit 57 minutes of time spent average.


How does it compare with print?


“Today the tablet edition is is accessed by 1.5 times more readers than our highest print run in 1970,” Cardinale said. “That is the measure of success.”


​In total, La Presse reaches 4 million readers each month. There are 8 million people in Quebec, which means La Presse reach 60% of Quebec’s adult population.


The tablet-editions for iPad and Android have a number of unique features.


Cardinal describes these with enthusiasm: “We offer a lot of graphic design, videos, graphics, interactivity and so on which makes our storytelling quite compelling. We also win design awards because of those screens. We also have long articles. We didn’t stop those. Journalists love them, so we we still have them and readers like them, too. We have a lot of ‘explainers’ because our graphic team is quite huge.”


​The two biggest hurdles


For publishers considering making the same switch La Presse did, stopping print and instead offering a flagship tablet version, Cardinale outlined some of the biggest challenges and hurdles they may confront.


“There there were a lot of hurdles. Inside and outside,” he said. “On the outside, our readers are people of habits. So we had to be there for them. We had to accompany them all the way. When we announced the tablet edition, it was clear that the end of the paper was coming. We started with ending of the weekday, print edition, and after two years, we ended the Saturday-edition too. So people knew that it was coming. They had time, but it was a firm decision. They had time to buy a tablet and get familiar with it. The readers knew that decision to stop print was a firm statement, and we stuck with it. So it worked.”


“On the inside, the working conditions for journalists changed a lot,” Cardinale continued. “There is not a single employee or function that wasn’t completely transformed in one way or another. So the transformation was hard on the inside. There were a lot of layoffs, too. And, in addition, it also took a lot of investments to develop the actual La Press+ app. It’s an 100% in-house developed application. So, we had to force readers on the tablet, and we knew that we had to force journalists to write for another kind of edition. Yeah, absolutely. is was challenging and tough both on the outside and the inside.”



The opening display screen of La Presse’s website, with the “Support La Presse,” button in bright yellow at top right.


The advice: Follow us, be bold and leave print behind


Cardinale then offered some advice to publishers who are thinking about making the transition to digital only.


“You have to have a plan. And you have to stick to the plan. You can’t offer the readers a choice. You have to gradually prepare your readers. So what will be hard for publishing companies is waiting maybe a couple of years from now. It will be about survival. They have to plan this switch and tell their readers 2, 3, 4 or 5 years in advance that they will end the printed paper one day and that they will have to go elsewhere.


You have to prepare inside and outside, and there will be a lot of hurdles. Our situation today looks nice, however it has been a marathon. It was very tough. One of the key lessons that we kept from all this, is that you can not try to save the paper while transforming digitally. It’s one or the other. If you make the leap, you have to do it fully.”


​Cardinale also reflected on their thinking in 2013 and today.


“The tablet was something we easily decided to do. However, new was, the stopping of printing. I am sure your question is if that part really was part of first tablet plan. The answer is really: Yes, it was and is still. It was a plan, all the way, from the start, because of two reasons.”


“We had the decrease of newspaper subscriptions, we saw it coming. We knew that. We didn’t want to be the last one to transform, and I think that it’s harder today than it was 10 years ago.



“And we saw that the readership of the paper was ageing very rapidly. So we had a lot of talks with advertisers. They wanted to reach people around 30 to 50 years old. And that was not the place where the print was,” Cardinale said.


The conclusion was, with the tablet edition, we thought that we can have the engagement that we had in the paper, but on another platform, a digital one.”


The current situation for many local news publishers look different and a bit more optimistic than above. However that builds, in most cases, of the fact that readers of the e-paper, lets admit, is a facsimil copy of the printed newspaper. Again: It is inspiring to conclude that La Presse has that behind them.


Today, they find themselves in a strong position thanks to the firm and full transformation to digital. We think that the most important point is the fact of being profitable and having the freedom that La Presse has without print! They are free to design their own future.


Finally, let’s not forget what made the transformation possible for La Presse. These were actually the last words in Cardinale’s presentation in Copenhagen before taking questions: “Our effective engagement platform has replaced the print newspaper in the hearts and minds of our loyal readership. I’m proud of the work we did. The vision, the plan. Today it’s not only completed, but it’s a success.”

This post was first published on our Innovate Local website. It has been lightly edited and slightly shortened for republication here. To see the original version, please click here.




The post Ceasing print: The bold and successful story of Canada’s La Presse appeared first on WAN-IFRA.