By H.G. Watson, Managing Editor
The bell has tolled for the Toronto Star’s tablet app.
On June 26, 2017, John Boynton, president and CEO of Torstar and publisher of the Toronto Star, announced in a newsroom memo that Star Touch will be replaced by a universal smartphone and tablet app as of Aug. 1, 2017.
“This decision was made after an in-depth review of options for apps operating on mobile devices and tablets,” he wrote in the memo.
“While Toronto Star Touch is an editorial success and has developed a loyal audience since its launch in 2015, 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.”
Thirty staff — 29 full-time and one part-time — have been laid off as a result of this move. Bob Hepburn, a Torstar spokesperson, told J-Source in an email that all the affected staff worked on Star Touch.
Star Touch was launched with much fanfare in September 2015. The Toronto Star hired 60 new staff members to work on it, and touted the freedom it gave journalists. But unlike a similar app produced by La Presse, which has been successful, Star Touch struggled to meet audience goals. “The audience is not as big as we had anticipated but it’s still a key priority for us to grow that core audience,” Hepburn told J-Source in 2016. The Star laid off 52 staff that summer, mostly from Star Touch.
In a newsroom memo, editor Michael Cooke said that they tried their “damndest” to make the tablet app work. “Star Touch was an editorial success of which we remain proud. It was named a best news app by Apple and the engagement numbers remain stunning,” he wrote. “But the audience is too small to be sustained as a business.”
Boynton first mentioned that Star Touch was in review on the first quarter conference call in early May of this year. He noted that while reader engagement with Star Touch was still strong, readership didn’t appear to be going up. “The volume doesn’t look like it is progressing at all,” he said
Torstar reported a $24.4 million loss in the first quarter of 2017, with print advertising revenues declining 19 per cent, while digital revenues were down four per cent as a result of lower revenues at Workopolis, WagJag and Save.ca.
The company cut 110 jobs earlier this year as part of restructuring, with savings pegged at $5.3 million. The Financial Post reported that those job cuts came from the closure of a small printing plant and mail room.