Canadian newspapers made digital push in 2015

Many Canadian newspapers have made the jump into digital in 2015, amid industry decline hit hard by faltering advertising revenue and sharp drops in circulation.

Papers tinker with paywalls and tablets to stay profitable and relevant

Many Canadian newspapers have made further jumps in digital this year, amid an industry hit hard by faltering advertising revenue and drops in circulation. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The newspaper industry in Canada has been hit hard in recent years by massive declines in advertising revenue and sharp drops in circulation.

Digital platforms have been touted as a survival strategy for broadsheet papers, and many have extended their online reach in 2015.

Montreal's French-language La Presse, for example, announced in September it will end its weekday print editions in 2016, pinning its hopes on the successful La Presse+ tablet edition. The last weekday edition of the paper comes out Friday.

The 131-year-old publication cut 158 jobs earlier this year, and will make print editions available only on Saturdays.

Launched in 2013 at a cost of $40 million, the free tablet app has more than double the number of readers of La Presse's print edition, reaching more than 450,000 readers weekly, most of them aged 25 to 54.

French-language newspaper La Presse will only publish a print edition on Saturdays starting in 2016, with weekday editions appearing only on its free tablet app La Presse+. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Paywalls, under which online readers pay for a subscription in order to read articles, were initially seen as the revenue solution in the digital age, and they have been implemented by many publications in Canada.

The Wall Street Journal was the first major newspaper to introduce a paywall, and the approach has seen varying degrees of success, with some newspapers scrapping them and others like the Globe and Mail choosing to stick with it.

After the Toronto Star dropped its paywall for online articles in April, the paper launched the free tablet app Star Touch in September, inspired by, and with help from, La Presse.

Incorporating articles with interactive media elements like video, audio and photos, the app also includes interactive ads, which Torstar president and chief executive David Holland said will allow advertisers to reach and engage younger readers.

Canada's largest newspaper invested heavily in Star Touch, spending $10 million to $12 million and hiring dozens of new staff.

The Globe and Mail, which introduced an iPad app in 2010 and an Android app in 2014, unveiled a revamped Globe app in May that works on the iPhone and iPad.

The Toronto Star is offering an advertising-supported tablet edition, while the Globe and Mail is sticking with a paywall. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Micropayments vs. subscriptions

Some publications have tried tinkering with the paywall concept.

While the Globe allows for 10 free stories a month before prodding its readers with a subscription paywall, the Winnipeg Free Press limits its readers to only three free stories, ever.

After that, people can sign up with a credit card for its micropayment subscription, an iTunes-style model that allows readers of the Winnipeg Free Press — or the "Freep" as it is sometimes called — to purchase articles individually.

Introduced this summer, the system lets a reader buy each story for 27 cents, or purchase an online subscription at the full $16.99 price. Readers can even get a refund on purchased articles by clicking on a button and explaining why it wasn't worth the price.

The micropayment system has been called a success by publisher Bob Cox, who says casual readers now number in the thousands, with a couple of dozen new casual readers signing up every day.

Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox says the paper's micropayment system is working. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Some papers, however, have struggled to adapt to the media landscape's digital frontier.

In 2014, Postmedia purchased Quebecor's 175 English-language newspapers, which included the Toronto Sun and London Free Press, for $316 million in hopes of shoring up its digital prospects, according to Postmedia president Paul Godfrey.

The media company, which include the flagship National Post newspaper, started using paywalls in 2011 and introduced 6 p.m. evening tablet editions in 2014. However, Postmedia pulled the plug on the evening tablet editions in October for the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald. Readers were directed to a new, updated Postmedia app that works on tablet and mobile.

Postmedia reported a $263-million loss for its most recent fiscal year, with revenues of $750 million.

In February, it offered voluntary buyouts to journalists at the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and Windsor Star, and in June it made the same offer to staff at the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province.

The National Post also made a more traditional mobile venture in 2015.

Dubbing it the "Get to Know Us Summer Tour 2015," the Post sent out a food truck and peddled physical copies of its newspaper in downtown Toronto.


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