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La Presse offices in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

For La Presse, the future of online news is free.

The Montreal-based newspaper has spent $40-million over the last three years – and directed the efforts of more than 100 employees – in creating a daily digital edition for tablet computers that could one day replace the print edition. It said Wednesday that subscriptions to the daily electronic edition will be free when it launches in mid-April.

The move goes against the digital efforts of hundreds of North American newspapers – including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post in Canada – which have sought to monetize their online products with subscription plans as print revenue continues its decline. A report this week suggested that for every $16 newspapers are losing in print advertising, they are only making $1 online.

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"Making the news available free is now a well-entrenched practice in the digital universe and indeed, we believe, an irreversible phenomenon," said Guy Crevier, president and publisher of La Presse. "That is why we have chosen this model."

The newspaper – which has a daily readership near 800,000 – is counting on luring print advertisers with the promise of more eyeballs on their ads. The paper is counting on advertisers valuing the ability to reach digital subscribers as much as they do print subscribers.

"You will find all the familiar writing of our columnists and editorialists, as well as all of our customary sections, featuring even richer and deeper content, and all accessible via a user-friendly, non-intrusive browsing experience. Exclusive La Presse+ content will also be announced at launch time," Mr. Crevier said.

"The objective was clear from the start: to create a new medium by fully leveraging the potential of digital tablet computing, while at the same time improving upon the quality and depth that define La Presse."

La Presse has discussed the possibility of phasing out the printed paper edition altogether, when its printing contract expires in 2018, and creating subscription plans similar to what cellphone companies offer – readers could be given a digital reader in exchange for a commitment to subscribe for a predetermined amount of time.

But spokeswoman Caroline Jamet said there were no immediate plans to phase out the print edition as the new electronic version is launched.

"Right now this is in addition to what we've always offered," she said.

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La Presse is owned by Gesca Ltée, which in turn is part of the Desmarais family's Power Corp. of Canada.

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