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June 27, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

The Toronto Star, “surprised by low numbers,” is shutting down Star Touch, its expensive tablet app

It will be replaced by a more traditional app that also works on phones.

The Toronto Star announced on Monday that, “after much research,” it’s shutting down Star Touch, the expensive ($23 million invested!) tablet-only app it launched in 2015. The app’s shutdown is accompanied by layoffs of 29 full-time employees and one part-time employee.

“The overall numbers of readers and advertising volumes are significantly lower than what the company had forecast and than what are required to make it a commercial success,” John Boynton, president and CEO of TorStar and publisher of the Star, wrote in a memo to employees. (The previous publisher, John Cruickshank, stepped down last year after it became clear Star Touch was underperforming.)

A Star spokesman told The Globe and Mail that “the tablet’s monthly audience peaked at 80,000 unique readers, a small percentage of the Star’s monthly online readership, which hovers around 550,000 in the Greater Toronto Area alone.” It had originally aimed to be at 180,000 daily users by the end of 2016; it was at only 26,000 by March of last year.

Star Touch shuts down July 31 and will be replaced by a new universal app that, well, sounds as if it does what any news app should do now and it’s crazy the Touch app didn’t do these things: “operates both on smartphones and tablets…offers more of the features that you, our readers, have told us you want: breaking news, constant updates, more content, easy searches and navigation and the ability to share items much more easily on social media.”

“We need to simplify our business and having three downloadable apps, namely a tablet app, a mobile app and PDF, confuses consumers and is resource intensive, complex and costly. Having just two apps will simplify this,” Boynton wrote in his memo, printed in full at Canadaland along with a memo from the Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. (The two apps will be the universal one and this print replica.)

Star Touch was supported by advertising and entirely free to readers. It was modeled on Montreal’s French-language La Presse+, which is digital-only via tablet app (and website) and has a print edition on Saturdays (though that too is expected to go away later this year).

La Presse “remains, by accounts as recently as last week, a success,” editor-in-chief Cooke noted in his memo. “Throughout the diligent work before, at and after launch, Star executives and managers, and really all of us, knew there was significant risk that the Montreal experience might not translate to the [Greater Toronto Area] — arguably the toughest, most saturated media market in North America.”

Ken Doctor wrote about Star Touch’s “one time a day” model for Nieman Lab in 2015:

Star Touch, like La Presse+, won’t be a breaking news product. Readers get one edition a day, seven days a week. The breaking news function, The Star believes, remains with free smartphone and desktop web; Star Touch will link to The Star’s site for live files. Why? Research showing readers want editions — the old Economist bookends theory — and, in any event, the complexity of tablet presentation would require even more labor for a continuously produced product.

While the Star gradually built other updating features into the Touch app — a “live news” panel for real-time updates; breaking news notifications — it clearly wasn’t enough to convince readers that a tablet app updated once a day was the best way to get their news.

Canada’s Postmedia also made a bet on tablet editions which it shut down in 2015. It announced last week that it is launching new mobile apps for the National Post and the Financial Post, as well as a new digital replica of the National Post.

Star Touch closing notice from this tweet.

POSTED     June 27, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
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