La Presse to cease printing newspapers — eventually

The paper version of the La Presse newspaper — a 130-year-old daily publication — will soon disappear from newsstands, said the managers of the newspaper’s parent holding company Power Corporation.

Media company will go all-in on website and app, but has yet to announce date

Andre Desmarais, Deputy Chairman, President, and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Power Corporation, and Co-Chairman of Power Financial, and Paul Desmarais Jr., Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Power Corporation and Co-Chairman of Power Financial, right, are shown at the Power Financial Corp. annual meeting in Montreal Thursday, May 15, 2014. (Peter McCabe/CP)

The paper version of the La Presse newspaper — a 130-year-old daily publication — will soon disappear from newsstands, said the managers of the newspaper’s parent holding company Power Corporation.

André and Paul Desmarais, Jr., confirmed on Thursday that La Presse would stop producing its daily paper edition and will go all-in on its online platforms, which include its very popular La Presse+ app.

The paper newspaper doesn’t have a future.- Caroline Jamet, La Presse's VP communications

The issue was raised during Power Corp.'s annual meeting in Montreal on Thursday when Desmarais, Jr., was asked whether he foresees the disappearance of the print edition of its flagship newspaper.

His reply was, "Eventually, yes, quite simply, yes."

At a news conference after the meeting, the two men did not give a timeline for the scenario.

"We haven't made a decision," André Desmarais said. "We want the flexibility in order to do things properly. The market will determine when and if we have to completely (pull the plug on it). Maybe we could keep the Saturday and the Wednesday. I have no idea. We haven't decided yet."

They said their decision was based on a growing interest for La Presse+ as well as a perpetual decline in newspaper ad revenues. However, they did not reveal the date the newspaper would cease publication.

"We’re not talking months. I can’t give you a date because I don’t have a crystal ball and nobody can predict the future," La Presse's vice-president of communications, Caroline Jamet told Homerun guest host Shawn Apel on Thursday afternoon.

However, a clue may be the fact that a contract with printer Transcontinental is set to expire in 2018.

Popular iPad app led the way

The La Presse+ iPad app, launched in April 2013, cost $40 million to develop over three years. 

The company said it has been downloaded more than 490,000 times since 2013 and is reportedly responsible for 30 per cent of the media company’s revenues.

The Android version of the app was launched last month.

"It was clear from the start when we started La Presse+ that the business model of print newspapers had an end, but we don’t know when exactly that will happen. No decision has been made at this point," Jamet said.

She said the latest news comes nearly three years after the original announcement that La Presse would discontinue printing. She said that 59 per cent of print ad revenues have been lost since 2006.

"The paper newspaper doesn’t have a future," she continued. "The industry has to find solutions to reinvent itself."

Lost jobs for some

Power Corporation owns and manages La Presse through one of its holdings, Gesca. Gesca also owns fellow Quebec newspapers Le Soleil, La Tribune, Le Nouvelliste, Le Droit, La Voix de l’Est and Le Quotidien.

La Presse+ has been downloaded nearly half a million times in the year since its launch. (La Presse)

The Desmarais brothers recognized the move would mean redefining the missions of its other Quebec newspapers and would result in lost distribution and printing jobs, although they did not divulge any numbers. 

Charles Côté, president of the union representing journalists, photographers, illustrators and other newsroom staff, said the move was done with the different unions’ support through negotiations done over the past four years.

“The La Presse+ project is exciting for a good number of us in the newsroom, even if there are difficulties. We look forward to its success, especially since we are working very hard. We hope and believe that this success will be able to be reproduced for the other Gesca newspapers,” Côté said in a statement.

"Newspapers are the last-standing consumer good that is distributed door-to-door," Jamet said, pointing out that even Canada Post can no longer sustain door-to-door delivery.

Jamet said that the creation of La Presse+ actually resulted in a substantial amount of hiring of journalists, computer programmers and web developers. She also said newspapers all over the world have approached La Presse hoping to learn something from its experience. 

With files from The Canadian Press