Postmedia throws in the towel on page-designed tablet apps

A final one-page edition of the Montreal Gazette iPad app asks people to download the old app instead.

A final one-page edition of the Montreal Gazette iPad app asks people to download the old app instead.

As traditional media, and newspapers in particular, attempt to deal with the rapidly changing technological universe by overhauling their business models, many experiments are being tried out. Some are successful, some are spectacular failures, and most fall somewhere in between.

It’s normal in a period of experimentation chaos that some of those experiments fail. And it’s with that mindset that Postmedia announced this week it is pulling the plug on new tablet applications it launched with the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald, instead reverting to an old application that provides a standardized template for every story, which it simply pulls automatically from the website.

The apps offered evening editions of content from each newspaper, including some national and international news that was done centrally for all three. The original plan was for every Postmedia local paper to get a similar app when it was “reimagined”.

Like the apps from La Presse and the Toronto Star, the “2.0” Postmedia apps involved a lot of work. A professional designer created each page (and most stories were told over multiple pages), which mixed photos, video, animations, graphics and all sorts of other multimedia and interactive elements to create a rich, visually appealing environment.

At its peak, the Gazette iPad app had seven people working on it exclusively full-time, including all of its designers. It was a significant investment (though nowhere near what La Presse or the Star are doing) at a time when otherwise the company was cutting back hard.

In the end, the audience — and advertising revenue — the app generated wasn’t sufficient to keep it going. When it came to Edmonton’s turn to reimagine itself on four platforms, the plan for a new tablet app was ditched. Instead, it would continue to use an older app that was fed stories automatically from the website without the need for human intervention.

The change in the tablet app was reflected in a change in strategy on another platform as well. A smartphone app in which each story was specifically written (or, more accurately, edited) for that platform also changed direction. The Edmonton Journal’s new app is a hybrid, offering some custom smartphone-friendly stories and others that are fed automatically from the website. The other newspapers’ apps will follow its lead, unless there’s another change in strategy before then.

Both tablets and smartphones can also still use the newspapers’ websites, which are responsive and readable on those platforms. The fact that so many of them choose that option is another reason for the change.

Postmedia, like Torstar, Gesca and others, is experimenting. In the big picture, it’s a good thing. But when something of such quality fails, and especially when it’s not clear why (though everyone has their theories), it’s no less sad and frustrating.

I’ll miss you, pretty app.

9 thoughts on “Postmedia throws in the towel on page-designed tablet apps

  1. Dilbert

    It’s rather unsurprising to see this happen. Postmedia went from a single strategy “paper or death!” to the multi-faceted “lets go wildly overboard with online options”. I guess the idea was to be all things to everyone, but instead they appear to have come up short, not making the connection.

    What I find sad here is that there are 7 people losing their jobs because of all of this. It’s more sad because the legacy dead tree editions (and yes, it’s a legacy thing now, not the future) loses more money in a month than these people cost a year to have around. I guess it’s just easier to close down the app rather than work to find a solution. Cut down more trees, don’t worry!

    This is important too:

    “With falling revenue driving a $54-million fourth-quarter loss at Canada’s largest newspaper chain, Postmedia Network Canada Corp. is keeping its focus on cost-cutting as it hunts for new avenues to make money.”

    Once again, Postmedia is trying to shrink to profitability, which has been so wildly successful the last 10 or 20 times it’s been done. Sums it up right there.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      What I find sad here is that there are 7 people losing their jobs because of all of this.

      They aren’t.

      I guess it’s just easier to close down the app rather than work to find a solution.

      The easiest would be to do nothing, to keep sinking money into something that’s obviously not working instead of pulling the plug.

      Once again, Postmedia is trying to shrink to profitability

      That’s what you do when revenue is dropping and there’s little you can do about it.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “The easiest would be to do nothing, to keep sinking money into something that’s obviously not working instead of pulling the plug.”

        Sounds like Ned Flander’s parents. We’ve tried nothing and we are all out of ideas.

        As someone else mentioned, perhaps dealing with the copious amounts of negative feedback would be a good starting place. Deal with the app issues, make it more “user friendly”, and perhaps it would gather some speed. Clearly LaPresse is doing the same sort of thing, and getting 500,000 reads a week. It’s not a problem of the medium, just perhaps how the message is delivered.

        Postmedia (and the previous owners) of The Gazette have literally lost their asses trying to keep the paper going. The costs of a handful of people and a few servers ain’t gonna be the thing that bankrupts them.

        “That’s what you do when revenue is dropping and there’s little you can do about it.”

        Perhaps that’s also what you do that encourages revenue to drop. Sticking with a dead tree edition that is “most popular reading material of people over 70” sort of thing isn’t encouraging advertisers. If someone under 30 is very unlikely to read a newspaper, do you honestly think that big money advertisers are going to line up to be in a newspaper? They might be interested in a tablet, website, or app, provided of course you make a connection with a generation who isn’t already collecting a pension.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          As someone else mentioned, perhaps dealing with the copious amounts of negative feedback would be a good starting place.

          What negative feedback? The only negative thing I remember hearing about the tablet app was that it wasn’t available for Android.

          The costs of a handful of people and a few servers ain’t gonna be the thing that bankrupts them.

          Between the three newsrooms and the central team, we’re talking about a nontrivial amount of people working on the apps.

          If someone under 30 is very unlikely to read a newspaper, do you honestly think that big money advertisers are going to line up to be in a newspaper?

          Not if they want to reach people under 30.

          Reply
  2. Craig McPherson

    The Gazette’s Android app was possibly the worst designed I’ve ever seen. I downloaded it at it’s launch and within a few days uninstalled it. Horrible, absolutely horrid. Furthermore, judging by the comments on Google Play, I wasn’t the only one. The thing was massively hated. I know it’s Montreal’s only English language daily, but you guys are/have dropped the ball spectacularly. Sure revenues have been hammered by the advent of online viewing, but it’s more than that. The Gazette’s content has gone in the dumpster. Good journalists have been sent packing, replaced – if that – with grammar-deficient neophytes, research has gone out the window, and breaking news often is a day behind everyone else, even online. Your sister paper the National Post is often more up to date. It’s a sad lament for a once great paper that if it folded (which I do not wish for) it probably wouldn’t be missed.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The Gazette’s Android app was possibly the worst designed I’ve ever seen.

      The Gazette doesn’t have an Android tablet app. If you’re talking about the smartphone app, it’s had mixed reviews. But there are two versions of it.

      Reply
  3. Mario D

    Although it is a financial decision that can easily be understood , what if this is the doorway to the future as we see the paper edition fading away ? Why is la Presse`s tablet version apparently so popular while postmedia`s versions are not worth the investment ? Remains to be seen whether la Presse is not also losing money on it but sees growth and chooses to keep faith…

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why is la Presse`s tablet version apparently so popular while postmedia`s versions are not worth the investment ?

      That’s the big question. Marketing probably has a lot to do with it. Or maybe there’s something about the product itself.

      Reply

Leave a Reply