This morning, two major Canadian newspapers made big announcements about new ways of consuming their news. One, the Toronto Star, has put a lot of its eggs in the basket of a new tablet app based on La Presse+. The other, the Edmonton Journal, has redesigned its print edition, website and smartphone app based on Postmedia’s 2.0 template, but hasn’t launched a new tablet edition, unlike its Postmedia sister papers.
It’s two very different strategies toward finding new ways to connect with audiences and increase advertising revenues.
Everything on the tablet
Though it’s getting a lot of attention in English Canada, the Star’s Star Touch app doesn’t have much that’s new. It’s basically La Presse+ in English. It has the same interface, which is very pretty but also has some awkward usability issues (like being difficult to navigate with one hand and having shared screens online that don’t link to related stories). Lots of photos, short videos, interactive ads. Even the byline styles are the same as La Presse. For an idea of how it works, you can read this story I published two years ago.
Like La Presse, the Star’s app requires a lot of manpower. The Star says it hired 70 people for this app. And while the Star is Canada’s biggest newspaper in terms of circulation, it will require a lot to make that profitable.
Everything but the tablet
For the Edmonton Journal, meanwhile, the changes are major and many are made to save money rather than spend more of it.
Nice to see @edmontonjournal keeping with the political times. For years it was a cool blue, now it's bright orange. pic.twitter.com/kuzbJ1CZA8
— Justin Giovannetti (@justinCgio) September 15, 2015
The print edition gets a redesign that’s very familiar to readers of the Montreal Gazette (my employer), Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald. The template is virtually identical, except for the logo: The new Journal logo is an orange square, apparently meant to capture sunsets and Alberta’s beauty in the fall but already seen by some cynics as declaring allegiance to the NDP. The pattern in the logo is meant to represent the river valley.
Our #NewEdmontonJournal logo is part of new designs for all our sister papers. Four of us have the new look so far. pic.twitter.com/xmhUhcecuo
— Stephanie Coombs (@stephcoombs) September 15, 2015
Other changes mirror those made in other 2.0 redesigned papers. The business section has become “FP Edmonton”, for example.
New Edmonton Journal includes “NP in the Edmonton Journal” section with National Post stories. pic.twitter.com/YSBst5GlDV
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) September 15, 2015
But the Journal has gone a step further with the introduction of the “NP in the Edmonton Journal” section, which will be 8-12 pages long and feature stories from the National Post using Post-style layouts. This is the first time Postmedia has done something quite like this (though it had some FP pages in business sections before the redesign), and one would expect it to expand to other papers, which would save on production costs.
(I have no inside info on this, so don’t take my word as some official source here.)
The website is based on the same WordPress platform as other Postmedia 2.0 websites. And at first glance I don’t see anything there that’s different from the Gazette’s website.
The smartphone app does have some upgrades though, based on feedback from the apps of the other papers.
Journal smartphone app is upgrade on other 2.0 papers. Continuous scrolling, galleries and … questionable ads pic.twitter.com/ZZkrqYuNhb
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) September 15, 2015
- Stories have continuous scrolling instead of being divided into pages. This will make it a lot easier for editors formatting stories, and will solve the problem of pages not fitting the various sizes of smartphone screens that are out there.
- More sections, and full stories in those sections instead of condensed bite-size news rewritten by smartphone editors. (A section called EJ Now will still have stories designed specifically for the smartphone.)
- An easily accessible settings page that allows things like turning off notifications
- Quick access to live weather
- Headlines that become grey to note that you’ve read the story
- Photo galleries
- Inline ads and sponsored content
- The iPhone app integrates with the Apple Watch
We can probably expect these improvements to eventually make their way into other papers’ apps.
On the tablet, though, little has changed. Its logo has been updated, but otherwise it hasn’t changed from the old app that automatically grabs stories and photos from the website.
The fancy new well-designed tablet apps for the Gazette and other papers haven’t been terribly popular yet, and while everyone has a theory as to why (insufficient marketing, not enough additional editorial staff, a La Presse conspiracy), Postmedia is taking a step back there and rethinking its tablet strategy.
In the meantime, tablet users can still visit the Edmonton Journal website, whose responsive design is meant to work on any device.
La Presse was the first big test of whether a big investment in a new form of delivering the news can pay off. So far results are promising there. The Toronto Star will be the next big test, to prove that La Presse wasn’t a fluke.
Star Touch is available free for iPad. An Android app is promised later this fall. The Edmonton Journal smartphone app is free for iPhone and Android, and its website uses Postmedia’s meter system.
>Though it’s getting a lot of attention in English Canada, the Star’s Star Touch app doesn’t have much that’s new. It’s basically La Presse+ in English. It has the same interface, which is very pretty but also has some awkward usability issues (like being difficult to navigate with one hand)
No one outside Quebec generally pays attention to French media so for all intents and purposes, this is brand new though, not only for the rest of Canada but probably North America. It was always stated it would be based on the French version, so there was never going to be anything new or different.
And not sure what you mean by difficult to use with one hand, it is just scrolling up or down which requires one finger. If you mean holding it with one hand and trying to use the tablet, then every single app is awkward to use.
The biggest issue is that where to scroll changes by the screen. Sometimes the text is on the left, sometimes on the right. It requires moving hands around a lot, and an example of where style takes precedence over usability.
Ahh, right! I’m feeling you now.
The history of newspapers seems to be “day late, dollar short” sort of things. Now they are running face first into the ad block revolution which will once again make it that much harder to monetize content. More and more people are installing software or using browsers that will stop some or even most of the ads from appears and even being downloaded (save mobile bandwidth, especially!). When the business model is predicated on eyeballs seeing ads (not actually completing a transaction or otherwise interacting with the ad space) the results are potentially catastrophic of newspapers.
The apps look okay, the LaPresse one seems both to be the best and the one with the most potential to drive revenue via a subscription model rather than an ad based model. The rest of it seems pretty much generic mobile stuff, not great not bad, just is.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out, my bet is on the LaPresse+ based systems for a “win”, but not sure if it will be enough to make a true bottom line difference.
The “ad-block revolution” isn’t really.
Right now, some sites frequented by power users see up to 25% or 30% of readers blocking ads.
The overwhelming majority of sites see very few people blocking ads, and yes, that will increase, especially as users shift from desktop to mobile, but they will likely be supplanted by a) more people going online for news and b) some style of native ads.
Kevin, I think you need to look at what is just arriving literally as I am typing, which is native, built in the browser, default on ad blocking, particularly on mobile. In a world where users are often paying for limited bandwidth on their devices, not download ads, images, default play videos, and the like is all good for the user and encouraged.
Quite simply, if the ads are too big, too noisy, or too intrusive, they will likely never be accessed by the user because their mobile device will automatically block it. There are discussions all over the place and big starts, including indications that nubmer of desktop users employing some sort of ad blocking is rapidly increasing, and will ramp up further as browsers like Chrome roll out integrated ad blocking. Already, advertisers have had to deal with the loss of flash players in browsers, which account for a fair number of the previously interactive / video style ad spaces. When it hits more than 25% of users (and that should be later this year or early next year) the numbers start to get very critical in a business where margins are measures in tenths and hundreds of a cent per visit.
Steve, this story should be read in light of the comments found here:
The transition game for these legacy local media is sound: disaggregating a print bundle, re-assembling its parts in digital platforms.
However, with the shift to mobile and the rise of an omni-channel multi-device audience as the biggest forces influencing modern media and advertising, going “all-in” on a tablet is a recipe for failing.
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