Thursday, April 18, 2013

Québec’s daily newspaper La Presse releases brilliant new digital edition for the iPad, La Presse+

The French language newspaper La Presse today has released a new digital edition today for the iPad, La Presse+. The new tablet edition is being offered on a free subscription basis, with readers able to access their daily edition through the Apple Newsstand app each day by 5:30 a.m., seven days a week (the paper dropped its Sunday print edition in 2009).

“After three years of research and development, we are proud to offer users an innovative digital edition that will redefine the way they get their information, while maintaining La Presse’s DNA in terms of content quality. La Presse+ is an exceptional tool that enriches and expands upon the quality and depth of the news experience,” said Guy Crevier, President and Publisher, La Presse in the company's launch announcement.

"We chose the iPad for its outstanding content-presentation abilities and its potential as an advertising vehicle. The iPad is also the most widely used tablet device among our subscribers, and the most popular in Québec. La Presse+ is being offered on a free-subscription basis, because we believe in the irreversible phenomenon of the availability of information free of charge on digital platforms. This launch is a significant milestone, and La Presse+ now becomes the flagship platform of our entire information ecosystem," said Crevier.

"We've made a bet on a new medium, a new way to tell stories," Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, executive vice-president, digital publishing at La Presse, said to The Canadian Press agency. "We've taken so much time over the last two and a half years to test so many dimensions of the storytelling...that it would be a surprise to us if this doesn't succeed."

The App

Most daily newspaper apps are either a replica of the print edition, or else a reformatted version of the paper's website like The New York Times iPad app. The Daily, on the other hand, used a digital magazine-like approach to create its daily tablet newspaper.

La Presse+ is possibly the first real successful attempt to reimagine the daily newspaper for tablets. The front page, like the print paper, is established every morning, but the model is native to the iPad. But further, the stories themselves are also native to the iPad – attractive, native, imaginative layouts that engage the reader – rather than mere text layouts (though those are available, as well, if the reader wants).

The tablet edition contains sections just as your daily newspaper would: news, opinion, entertainment, sports, business and style (Actualités, Débats, Arts, Sports, Affaires and Pause Beauté).

The app also has a button that takes allows the reader to access the latest news from the paper's website, as well. But the importance of this feature is that it is not a refresh of the font page, but simply a way to give the reader access to news that might be new to the website. No, this app is a new take on the tablet newspaper, not attempt to bring the website to tablet readers.

As for the editorial content, that, too, has been reimagined for the tablet edition. I hesitate to say "enhanced" because that would imply simply adding in video, audio and the like. No, this is more than that.

There is great work being done in digital media created for tablets, especially in the area of e-books and magazines. But I think this may be the very first app to be released by a newspaper company that makes on feel that we are turning a corner. Anyone in charge of digital strategy at their paper needs to see this app, and if a month from now they remain unfamiliar with it then one would have to question their commitment to their profession – that's how important I feel this app is.

While the two screenshots give you a taste of look and feel of this tablet edition, I think it is safe to say that viewing the video walk-through is vitally important. Because of this, the video is a bit longer than normal in order to show off at least some of what is in La Presse+. (The video will be at the end of this post, after the break.)

The Business Model

La Presse claims that the launch of La Presse+ represents "three years of research and development and a $40- million investment." That is a claim that I have to take with a grain of salt. The editor of the newspaper, Guy Crevier, came on board in 2001 and there has no doubt been much work done on the newspaper, its website, and its mobile apps. But...

Guy Crevier
That aside, the one thing about La Presse+ that publishers will debate is the issue of giving the app and its contents away free of charge. For younger readers, in particular, there is no question that the product of choice will be La Presse+, not only for its interactive news content, but for it being free.

"How many readers (of the print edition) will be left at the end of the year, the end of next year and in three years? It's the consumers who will decide," Crevier is quoted by The Canadian Press as saying about print versus digital. So the paper, which says spends $90 million a year on print production, is certainly betting that digital distribution will pay for itself.

But La Presse+ is a tablet newspaper worth paying for and other publishers – and circulation manager – would probably insist on attaching a price tag to the new tablet edition inside the Apple Newsstand.

I will make no judgements about its news quality, we'll leave that for others. But simply looking at La Presse+ as a tablet edition I can think of no other newspaper app that I would consider superior to La Presse+.

Other attempts at the platform that claimed to rethink the medium, such as The Guardian's iPad edition, have been major disappointments. Others have been attempts to overcome the limitations of the print edition, such as those being built by NewspaperDirect (see the Boston Globe, for example). Others are reformatted versions of the website, a sign that the team involved in the creation of the tablet edition could not separate "website" from "digital". This is the problem with many digital media professionals, they are web-first, unable to think of the new digital platforms as separate platforms, ready to design natively for each platform. As a result, today we have advocates of responsive design in the ascendancy. I, too, like responsive design, but too many of the examples I've seen simply don't work equally as well across all platforms - they are again simply design-once solutions to a problem that requires more thought than that.

If, as a publisher, I might question the idea of offering La Presse+ for free, I do not question the approach to advertising. The app is using a tower approach, placing ads on the left of the page and making sure there are interactive features included. Though my French is limited, I believe I saw other, smaller ad units, as well. At least once I saw a full page ad, too. As a newspaper and magazine publisher this made me very happy. Abandoning the ad model is simply something I can not agree with – it is simply a way for non-advertising media executives to throw their hands up and give up.

I don't know if La Presse+ will have a major impact on digital media pros in the newspaper industry. It should, and I'd love to hear why this isn't an important app, maybe they could change my mind. But if I worked at La Presse I'd be very proud of the paper this morning, and more than a little encouraged that the paper was on the right track.

The Video

Here is the usual walk-through video of La Presse+. It goes a little slow for the first minute but I thought it important to show off the way the reader will be introduced to the app. After that first minute the video is then inside today's edition. Because the app and its contents is free I would encourage you to download and install the app yourself to check it out. If I worked at a newspaper I'd be eating this up and making sure I knew everything contained in this brilliant new tablet edition.

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