October 23, 2015
Post Media Tablet art (courtesy of Garcia Media)

Post Media Tablet art (courtesy of Garcia Media)

Those wonderfully produced tablet editions of the Postmedia group in Canada have ceased to exist. Yet, other tablet editions in Canada appear to thrive. What gives?

The Postmedia tablet editions are now history. They went from the infant to the toddler stage to the end in a relatively short period. They were barely learning how to walk!

Disclaimer: I was the consultant involved in the rethink of the Postmedia titles in 2013, which included new strategies across all platforms, including the creation of those evening tablet editions.

As one highly placed Postmedia executive described it for me this week:

“The surgery was a success, but the patient dies.” He added: “Audience just didn’t come.”

Good surgeons in such a situation will always do a good post-mortem to learn what went wrong and how to avoid similar outcomes.

As I look back, I don’t think there is a single thing that we would do different procedurally. As we rethought the various Postmedia titles, [we] went for a digital-first approach, redesigned the print products and created a common visual language for all platforms, we always envisioned an evening tablet edition that would capture the best feature stories of the day, provide an outlet for more visual storytelling, via video and photo galleries, and lure readers, at the end of the day, for a more lean-back experience.

These are all ideas that we still embrace and which have been successful for other newspapers, including such Canadian titles as La Presse+, a tablet product that will replace the print edition soon, and now for The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star (where the verdict is still out on its success).

In Denmark, Berlingske has captured a good and devoted following for its tablet editions (there is a morning and an evening one) with distinct, highly visual content.

Not so at Norway’s Aftenposten, where the tablet edition limps along, with many readers switching to their smartphones for information at all hours of the day.

At McClatchy, one of our recent products, we decided to create tablet editions that combine news and features, with news as a very important component. Focus groups told us that readers wanted both news and features.

Is it time to pull the plug on evening tablet editions?

Not at all, but perhaps it is time to examine the issue of frequency and to realize that when we are talking mobile platforms, a large share of the public’s attention is going to smartphones.

It is safe to assert that our audience is holding on to a smartphone for everyone of their waking hours. We simply don’t put the phone down. I myself find that I am reading longer pieces on my iPhone 6. I am watching videos there, too.

I still read The New York Times each evening on my tablet, but I know many of my acquaintances do it on their smartphones.

Perhaps the concept of the tablet edition needs to be revised. In markets, such as Denmark, where the evening tablet edition is a success, there is the presence of the e-paper — tomorrow’s printed newspaper — as a major component.

So the users want news updates, tomorrow’s newspaper and some distinct multimedia feature stories. That seems to be a mix that pleases those users who read on the tablet.

Whatever one decides to do, one must be prepared for the reality that smartphones have pushed the tablet out of our hands at most hours of the day.

Those Postmedia editors can have the satisfaction of knowing that they created a product of high quality. It will be helpful to deconstruct the project and to find out why it failed to resonate with more readers.

As Lucinda Chodan, editor of the Montreal Gazette, put it to me: “We told the newsrooms in Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary ….that in spite of the fine work featured on our tablet edition, it had failed to achieve a critical mass or readers or advertisers, so we are reverting to our previous auto-fed tablet app. We had a toast in the tablet “pod” just after publication of the last edition and the fine team that had worked on it.”

The end of tablet editions? Not at all. But perhaps they are not for every market, and they need to include a different mix of news and features and allow for many readers to read those on their smartphones. We learn as we go, and, as I often say, it’s difficult to assess progress without experimentation.

That’s exactly how the internal Postmedia memo referred to the end of the tablet editions:

“We are not abandoning anything – we are learning and iterating. Our audiences are telling us what they want – page view by page view.”

Related: Garcia Media Blog: What next for tablet editions?

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Dr. Mario Garcia is CEO/Founder of Garcia Media. He is also the Senior Adviser for News Design/Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism…
Mario Garcia

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