“Lean back in your favourite chair and enjoy a rich evening news magazine”: That, at least, was what Postmedia hoped readers would do.
When the Canadian media company rolled out evening tablet editions at three of its papers (The Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, and Ottawa Citizen) last year, the idea was that those separate apps were part of a “four-platform strategy” (also including print, web, and a new smartphone app) that provided users with different news-reading experiences based on their demographics.
On Wednesday, though, Postmedia confirmed that it would be shutting down its tablet editions. The Globe and Mail, which first reported the news, cited an internal memo that read, 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.”
Here’s how Andrew Potter, editor of the Ottawa Citizen, explained it at launch:
The strategy is grounded in research. Postmedia hired IPSOS Canada to survey more than 17,000 Canadians in eight key Postmedia markets to understand their reading habits: when and how they use their smartphones, tablets, computers and newspapers throughout the day.
What they found was that each platform attracted a different kind of reader. The survey revealed that young people overwhelmingly use their smart phones to access news, while middle-aged readers have developed an enormous appetite for their iPads. The newspaper, not surprisingly, tends to be favoured by those who have grown up with a paper slapping on the porch. Each audience, the researchers discovered, wanted something unique.
The iPad apps were aimed at those who “like to read after dinner when it’s quiet,” for example, while the smartphone apps were for people who “don’t have time to sit down and read the paper.”
Postmedia claimed to me that it doesn’t separate out audience numbers for its individual apps, so it couldn’t tell me how many evening edition readers it had. But The Globe and Mail noted that “the 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.” It appears that most of those readers were on phones. Cole Reiken, VP of Postmedia’s digital businesses, told The Canadian Press that the tablet editions turned out to appeal to “a very, very niche audience” and said growth is coming from “that always up-to-date, ‘let me get in and let me get out'” reader.
The question remains whether Postmedia’s saga is part of a larger trend of news audiences abandoning tablets in favor of phones, or whether something about Postmedia’s evening tablet editions themselves also turned people off. Some other Canadian newspapers are wholeheartedly embracing tablets: Quebec’s La Presse will be digital-only on weekdays as of January 1, 2016, and 60 percent of its ad revenue comes from tablets. La Presse recently licensed its tablet app platform to the Toronto Star.
Consensus seems to be forming that tablet-specific news products don't hold up in a multiplatform world. https://t.co/rkoPMQudyr
— Jeff Sonderman ✎ (@jeffsonderman) October 22, 2015
At Postmedia, readers complained that the tablet and smartphone apps were buggy, leading the papers to bring back older versions of the apps in January 2015. This means that the newer versions of each of the three papers’ apps coexist in the App Store, alongside the older versions, alongside the e-paper app versions, alongside the evening tablet editions that will presumably be removed soon. That’s confusing and presumably wasn’t helpful in getting readers to understand that they were supposed to be downloading different apps for different situations.
On Thursday, Postmedia reported a loss of $54.1 million Canadian for the quarter ending August 31, 2015. Digital revenue for the first nine months of 2015 was $97.7 million Canadian, a slight decrease from this time last year if you separate out Postmedia’s acquisition of Sun Media.
A previous version of this story mistakenly referred to Andrew Potter as Andrew Duffy.