Postmedia Network Canada Corp. is pulling the plug on its ambitious evening tablet editions, ending an experiment with daily digital news that launched less than a year and a half ago.
The last evening editions produced by the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald will be published Wednesday evening, after which tablet readers will be directed to a simpler, constantly updated news app, according to a memo sent to staff.
The decision moves resources away from tablets amid an ongoing revamp across the Postmedia chain, which originally envisioned similar 6 p.m. tablet editions at eight Postmedia dailies. One job, based in Toronto, will be cut as a result, said Postmedia spokesperson Phyllise Gelfand.
"It was a beautiful product we were proud of, certainly, but it just didn't reach a critical mass of audience or advertisers," Ms. Gelfand said in an interview. "And we're finding that our news app that's constantly updated is a better product, it's a more desirable product."
Postmedia's "four platform strategy" bet on the notion that the kind of content readers wanted, and the way they prefer to read it, varied dramatically depending on the time of day and the platform available. As a result, the initiative has also created redesigned print editions and websites, as well as smartphone apps that offer bite-sized and breaking news updates in a more conversational tone.
But the retreat from putting resources into a daily, visually appealing tablet edition – one that included interactive graphics, video and audio – comes at a moment when two other major Canadian dailies, the Toronto Star and the French-language La Presse, have teamed up to make a major bet on polished tablet editions dubbed La Presse+ and Star Touch.
So confident is La Presse that it is scrapping its weekday print edition at the end of the year.
The first redesigned Postmedia newspaper to launch was the Citizen, in May of 2014. When the Gazette redesign was introduced last October, the company put out a news release touting its "bold reimagination strategy" and the iPad app's "rich, touch and explore multimedia experience for users to dive into, delivered at 6 pm each weekday."
"We are blazing a trail in North American media and playing a long game," said president and CEO Paul Godfrey, at the time.
The long game, as far as the tablet product is concerned, lasted only 17 months. An internal memo circulating "Editors' Talking Points" includes a bullet point that reads, in part, "We are not abandoning anything – we are learning and iterating. Our audiences are telling us what they want – page view by page view."
The sleek tablet editions with high production values were billed as an "evening news and current affairs magazine." Postmedia hoped it would be able to tailor the news to readers of different ages and interests, delivering advertisers more targeted audiences.
"Advertisers ... will be able to engage more deeply with their specific customers, creating a dynamic new media experience," a company news release said last year.
Postmedia put the chain-wide rollout on pause after the Citizen, Gazette and Calgary Herald's new designs were released to low readership – daily circulation of digital editions on tablets and phones has been about 11,000 at the Citizen and Gazette, according to figures from the Alliance for Audited Media.
And in January, the Citizen's editor-in-chief, Andrew Potter, announced that in response to "reader feeback," the paper was bringing back its previous generation of smartphone and tablet apps.
In an August interview, Mr. Godfrey said aspects of the rollout were being retooled to place greater emphasis on the smartphone app, admitting "we learned a lot; everything we did wasn't great." When the revamped Edmonton Journal came out in mid-September, it came with a much simpler tablet app that updates throughout the day.
The Citizen, Gazette and Herald "will be migrated to the news app, like we just launched in Edmonton," Ms. Gelfand said.