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MONTREAL -- Montreal La Presse believes it has found the winning formula to offset declining revenues that are crippling North American newspapers.

After three years of development and $40 million of expenses, the French-language daily launched a free-subscription digital edition of the paper Thursday. For now, it will be available exclusively on iPad.

La Presse+ offers readers of its print edition a more extensive and interactive reading experience that the paper's publisher says will attract readers and advertisers alike.

"I'm convinced, convinced, convinced that in a model like this, there will be a growth in subscriptions and a growth in revenue for the coming years," Guy Crevier said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Crevier said he believes it's the first effort of its kind in the world and could be a model for others to follow.

The edition is sent to subscribers by 5:30 a.m., while up-to-date stories can be accessed through a link to the La Presse website.

La Presse is part of the Gesca chain, a subsdiary of Power Corp., a conglomerate with media interests that include a stake in The Canadian Press news agency.

Newspapers can't simply cut costs to survive, and erecting pay walls only delays the decline, Crevier said.

Several publications have begun to charge readers to view articles, with varying degrees of success. The North American industry lost $25 billion of advertising revenues between 2006 and 2011, yet only $600 million has been added from pay walls, Crevier said.

La Presse expects a "massive" number of its subscribers, who pay on average $220 per year, will migrate to the free service, which can be accessed with an iPad or iPad mini that costs about $330. It says lost subscription revenues will be more than offset by advertising.

The paper expects to have 400,000 viewers per week by year-end. A total of about 1.7 million people currently consult the print edition, La Presse's website and its mobile platform. Some 600,000 of that number have iPads, and 43 per cent of the rest expect to buy one within 12 months.

The company spends about $90 million annually on printing the paper. Crevier wouldn't say if the printed edition's days are numbered.

"It's the consumers who will decide," he said.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2013 B13

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