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Montreal La Presse print edition to disappear: newspaper executive

MONTREAL - One of Power Corp.'s two co-chief executives says the print edition of Montreal La Presse will disappear "eventually."

Co-chief executives Andre and Paul Desmarais Jr. noted the growing interest in online news as well as a steady decline in revenue from print advertising for newspapers.

The issue was raised during Power Corp.'s annual meeting in Montreal on Thursday when Paul Desmarais Jr. was asked whether he foresees the disappearance of the print edition of its flagship newspaper.

His reply was, "Eventually, yes, quite simply, yes."

At a news conference after the meeting, the two men did not give a timeline for the scenario.

"We haven't made a decision," Andre Desmarais said. "We want the flexibility in order to do things properly. The market will determine when and if we have to completely (pull the plug on it). Maybe we could keep the Saturday and the Wednesday. I have no idea. We haven't decided yet.

"What we've realized over the past few years, but particularly the last year and this year, is there has been an enormous drop in advertising revenue at the national level and now from the retail sector.

"And I believe that augurs badly."

The Power Corp. (TSX:POW) executives did not want to quantify the revenue drop in print advertising, but noted that fellow publishers Torstar Corp. (TSX:TS.B) and Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) are experiencing similar problems.

Andre Desmarais said the disappearance of the 130-year-old print edition would more than likely result in job losses.

"It's a reality," he added. "It's not because of us. It's a medium and people want less of it. And if advertisers don't want to put their advertising in newspapers, it's obvious there will be layoffs."

Power Corp.'s Gesca affiliate owns several newspapers throughout the province, including Quebec Le Soleil, Sherbrooke La Tribune and Ottawa Le Droit.

Power Corp., through its Square Victoria Communications Group subsidiary, is also a co-owner of The Canadian Press.

Gesca is counting heavily on La Presse+, a free interactive digital edition for iPad that was introduced last year.

The two executives said one-half of the readers of La Presse+ are aged between 25 and 54 and that it accounts for about 30 per cent of La Presse's revenues.

Andre Desmarais said La Presse+ has led to a younger readership and that it will remain free.

"Young people are used to having their things free on Internet and they want to have their products when they want to," he noted.

He also warned that other newspapers in the Gesca chain will have to redefine themselves if they want to survive.

"(Otherwise), they're going to disappear."

Power Corp. released its results for the first quarter ending March 31 on Thursday.

Net earnings attributable to participating shareholders rose to $242 million, or 53 cents per share, from $225 million, or 49 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenues climbed to $10.76 billion from $8.36 billion.

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