French news site Rue89 is giving up its monthly print magazine.
As Les Echos reported, the site is returning to its original identity of a pure online player and ceasing the printed issue, which launched in June 2010.
Pierre Haski, the site's co-founder, confirmed the news on Twitter, underlining that the return to an online-only reality is more coherent with the original identity of Rue89.
Rue89 has followed an uncommon path: after being launched online-only in 2007, it started publishing a selection of the site's content in a print monthly edition with the aim of creating a new revenue stream both from sales and advertising in print.
The print magazine for Rue89 was an experiment, not a core activity, Pierre Haski explained in an interview with Editors Weblog.
The idea was to find a new audience, trying to reach people who were not usually online readers by offering them a selection of the best online content of the previous month. At the same time, the magazine hoped to find also a second revenue source from advertising in print.
However, “we underestimated the difficulty of surviving in the abundance or over-abundance of titles in the newsstands in France”, Haski explained. “At kiosks in France there are plenty of magazines and you find yourself disappearing after four or five days as new covers are taking over the space. Unless you have the money to buy advertising space for the magazine or special display within the newsstand, you just vanish. So we were facing the contradiction that the only place where we were able to advertise the magazine was on our website, despite the fact the audience we were trying to reach was completely different, to avoid that same audience being offered just a duplication of reading the same content online and on print.”
Rue89 reached the point where the print circulation and subscriptions were breaking even, but no more, and the monthly product was taking up significant human resources. In the meantime, Haski continued, the tablet started to become a key sector of development.
In last June the paper began another experiment, launching the first magazine tablet app based on the print monthly. “We had this weird situation in which our stories were going from the web to the print and from the print to the tablet. This made us reflect on why we were spending the energy and the money of going through the print edition, and why not to go straight from the web to the tablet. So that was the decision we took”, Haski commented.
Haski also explained that although tablet circulation will initially be lower than the print, it has more strategic potential and it is more coherent with the original identity of the paper.
Later last year Rue89 was purchased by Nouvel Observateur group, a media group that publishes the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.
Haski stressed that the discussion about closing the print edition had already started a while before it joined Nouvel Obs, but he admitted that going back to focusing just on online makes more strategic sense as it is now part of a magazine group which already has a strong print presence.
“They, like us, have more interest in us being a vibrant digital company rather than spending so much energy trying to survive on print”.
Talking about the ingredients for being successful and profitable online, Haski noted that at the moment the economic model for a pure player is still difficult to find because advertising is not enough to make a company viable to pay salaries for a newsroom of a significant size. One alternative way is to diversify, which is what Rue89 is doing with its training department and web development for other clients, and which it tried to do with the print edition.
Even that was not enough, however, and thus Rue89 decided it would be a good move to join a bigger group. “The real difficult is that the online advertising market is not completely mature and the economic environment is pretty tough as well. The old economic model of the press is dying and the new economic model of the online media is still uncertain. We find ourselves in a time of transition," Haski said.