La Presse's ink-stained days may be numbered.
Montreal's popular French-language broadsheet is considering phasing out its print edition, according to employees and union leaders who have attended information sessions.
Also under study is a marketing scheme in which e-tablets would be given away to online customers who sign up for a minimum subscription, a strategy similar to that of mobile service providers who hand out free cellphones to drum up business.
The tablet giveaway is one of several options the paper is exploring to better tap into the digital revolution. The push at La Presse is part of an industry-wide trend as newspapers seek ways to create new revenue streams and attract a younger audience more at ease with mobile devices and the Web than with stodgy old newsprint.
But La Presse management appears to be moving quickly and aggressively on the digital front.
La Presse publisher Guy Crevier has been holding a series of town halls to update staff on the project.
"They are contemplating the possibility of eliminating the printed newspaper and transferring all of that to a tablet platform," said Frédéric Murphy, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de La Presse.
"The message is that there is a strong possibility that there will no longer be a print edition of La Presse within three to seven years," he said.
La Presse spokeswoman Caroline Jamet said in an e-mail message that the paper has over the past year set up a digital team but that it's too early to say when the project will be completed.
La Presse is owned by Gesca Ltée, which in turn is part of the Desmarais family's Power Corp. of Canada.
A La Presse employee who did not want to be named said the digital project is taking a cold, hard look at the continued viability of a print edition. Already, the Sunday print edition has been eliminated.
The search is on for a business model of charging for online or tablet-computer content, said the staffer.
La Presse signed a 15-year contract for the printing of the paper by Transcontinental Inc. in 2003.
"Whatever transpires, we have a printing contract in the tens of millions of dollars with Transcontinental that ends in 2018," Ms. Jamet said in her e-mail.
"If they were able to eliminate the print edition - which includes substantial costs to distribute the paper - there would be some huge cost savings," said Christopher Waddell, director of Carleton University's School of Journalism.
At the same time, the search is on - by La Presse and most major industry players - to find a value proposition on tablets that consumers will pay for, he said.
Some North American newspaper publishers - notably the Seattle Post-Intelligencer - have already shut down their print editions.
And Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. recently launched what it says is the first daily news publication tailored exclusively to Apple Inc.'s iPad - The Daily.
With a file from reporter Susan Krashinsky in TorontoReport Typo/Error