Thursday, October 16, 2014

The digital challenge of the regional newspapers

French regional newspapers are in bad shape. The figures are well known: a regular fall of circulation, at about 2% per year. A faster decrease of classified and advertising at a rate of 8% per year. The result is the obligation to raise the price of the newspapers which is punishing for the subscribers that make a huge majority of the readership.

It is hard to see the future of Nice Matin. The once prosperous daily of the French Riviera loses 12 millions euros a year and its circulation is in free fall. It is obvious that the proposal of the employees who wish to buy their newspaper is not realistic. Their financing is not properly fixed and they intend to keep working the printing unit which is losing a lot of money. Rossel proposal is more to the point but it is painful: It intends to reduce drastically the staff and close the printing unit. However, even if Rossel prevails it remains to be seen whether Nice Matin can survive more than a few years.

The digital challenge is not easy to face either. Regional dailies are desperately looking for devices with a very limited success. Ouest France and Sud Ouest are trying an evening edition, mostly devoted to national and world news. For the moment, it doesn't work. Subscribers are scarce as they can get for free the news offered by these dailies. There are so many websites in French or in English that provide that kind of information. Look at Huffington Post, Slate and the websites of the free sheets.

However, the big question is the financing of the very costly collection of local news. In the US, the local newspapers have been trying for years to build up paywalls and attract local advertisers. By now the figures are very disappointing. Local pure players are not successful either. For the moment, at least, the public is not willing to pay.

And yet, people want to know what's happening in their city, the place where they live. There is a solution but it has not been found yet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Guardian goes European

The Guardian has great ambitions and important financial means thanks to the sale of its classified ads website.

Its main objective is to become a global world media. It has developed a strong position in the English speaking community. It has launched a digital edition for the US and for Australia. Now it is working on a new initiative, the launch of an European edition on the Web.  Now most executives of the main European countries speak English and could be potential readers of a good digital publication staffed with high level journalists hired from Germany, France, Italy or Poland and doing in depth investigations.

Still the competition is tough. The International New York Times and the Financial Times offer a comprehensive coverage of European news. However, the main threat comes from the new European edition of Politico, based in Brussels and supported by Springer.

For national media from Germany, France or Italy, it is also a challenge. It is obvious that the language barrier doesn't work any more. Only quality counts which costs money but he Guardian and Politico have deep pockets.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Politico, Guardian, new adventures

It is comforting to see some legacy media and new media trying new experiments and moving easily in the digital world of to day.

The Guardian is starting what it calls long form journalism i.e. long articles treating in depth current affairs and easy to read on paper and on the Web. With a print circulation sinking slowly and a Web audience spreading in the English speaking world, notably in the US and Australia, it tries to offer a global service. and the Guardian, like Vox and many American pure players has realized that this service includes long papers that can be read easily on computers and tablets. Quality carries with it audience and readers willing to pay. A good tip in France for a daily like le Monde.

Politico, which I have been following for many months is becoming more and more a global media, far away from its starting point inside Washington beltway. Its magazine covers more and more international affairs and uses long form too. Now the player moves to New York and Brussels and can afford to grow thanks to the 950 millions dollars collected by its mother company Allbritton, when it sold its local TV network. It is an unforeseen competitor to the Guardian and the NY Times but it is a very healthy outcome. Digital world and quality news can thrive together.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bezos man takes over at the Washington Post

When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post on August 2013, I told some of my friends that when he would get fed up with the ailing newspaper, he would sell it to Politico.

It was not just a joke. I think that the choice of Frederick J. Ryan to replace Katharine Weymouth as the new publisher of the Post goes a long way in this direction.

Lets see the facts. Politico was created 8 years ago by a group of talented journalists coming mostly from the Times and the Post to cover on the web the political life of Washington. The Post and the Graham family refused to get involved in this adventure. Politico was launched instead by Allbritton, the only media group based in Washington.

Since then, both Politico and Allbritton have thrived. Politico has broken even and developed new activities in New York, international affairs and intends to set a new branch in Brussels. Its mother company has made headlines last year by selling its huge television properties in order to finance new developments on Web services. F. Ryan has been one of the founders of Politico and he was in charge of the television branch. After its sale he has been recuperated by Bezos to go where? At the Washington Post.

I would not be surprised if Bezos was in touch with Allbritton for a global deal, a merger of the Washington Post and Politico. it would be a smart move as the future of the print seems very dark and Politico looks more and more like an Internet Post. And Ryan is the right man to organize this merger.

Is it far fetched? Maybe but it would be a good gamble for the owner of Amazon.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Guardian helps local news

I was interviewed yesterday by the French media publication INAGlobal about the future of regional newspapers. It is a well known fact that they are in deep trouble. Their very successful formula that offered to a large readership a bundle of national news, extensive local news, info service, classified ads and commercial advertising doesn't function anymore. It appears that people want just to satisfy very personal needs. They get what they want through Google, the social networks and various applications easy to consult on their smartphones.

And yet, local life is a breeding ground for a lot of very interesting information. When a big event happens in Ferguson, Missouri, the national medias are at pains to collect the proper pieces of news that will help their audience to understand what is happening. So, in the US, the Guardian has decided to build up  a working relationship with several local dailies to improve this understanding.

It seems however that this sharing of information is more profitable to a popular national website such as Guardian USA than to more modest local publications. And there is no money exchange while the financing of local news collection gets more and more uneasy with the collapse of classified and the limited success of paywalls.

As I said to my friend of INAGlobal, solutions are hard to find. Maybe the national media will have to contribute much more to the working of local networks.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The New York Times still a model?

The results of the N Y Times for the second quarter were a cold shower on the hopes of the US media community. In his blog for Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor wonders whether the continuing decline of print ads, 4% less and the slowing increase of digital subscribers, 32000, mean that the Grey Lady is not succeeding its challenge.

If it were so, it would be a very bad signal for the European and American newspapers which have been following very closely the NYT strategy.

The big question is whether it will be possible one day to finance a large and efficient newsroom with a mostly digital income. To day, we get conflicting signals. On the positive side, it seems that more and more people get used to paywalls and digital subscriptions. On the negative side, there is a mssive transfer of the readership from computers to mobile devices, mainly smartphones where ads and easy reading are not easy to get. And also, there is in both Europe and the US a sharp fall of print advertising while big digital supports like Google or Facebook  dominate more and more the market. Presently, Google absorbs 30% of digital advertising in the world and print media cannot compete.

Now, advertising makes hardly 35% of the NYT income. 10 years ago, it was twice as much. Same thing with European newspapers. The safe financing of good information remains in doubt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Does big money saves the press?

Patrick Drahi, the franco-israelian tycoon has decided to invest 20 millions euros in the ailing French daily Libération. For the newspaper newsroom it meant a narrow escape from a coming death. Libération is saved, at least for a while.

Does it mean that Drahi is a good willing benefactor, eager to save the voice of a center left opinion maker? Things look a bit different when watched more closely. The businessman, when he bought SFR, the second French telecom operator, was accused by several socialist politicians and notably, Arnaud Montebourg, of not beeing fully atuned to French interests. It was widely observed that he doesn't live in France but in Switzerland where he enjoys a privileged fiscal statute. Instead of transfering his fiscal home to Paris as suggested by Montebourg, he prefered to fill his civic duties by helping progovernment Libération. A good political investment, very cheap if compared to the huge SFR bill.

What is striking is that, in France, there are no huge media groups, the size of Springer or Schibsted. However, there are a lot of wealthy businessmen who have bought into newspapers, hoping probably to gain some influence in the tiny parisian establishment. They don't look for a broad international strategy, there is no Murdoch or Dopfner or Ringier among them. They are happy with their small property, on the margins of their main activities.

Should we blame Serge Dassault for buying le Figaro, Bernard Arnaud for les Echos, Xavier Niel for le Monde and Nouvel Observateur? Shall we blame Vincent Bolloré if he intends, one day, to enter the print world? No, in their own ways, they save newspapers in trouble. And yet, one wish they were more ambitious, and a bit younger.