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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Digital local news. Is there a hope?

I have often mentioned in this blog, the difficult challenge of local news trying to find some room in the new digital world.

On Gigaom website, Matew Ingram evokes the thankless task of the pioneers who have tried and failed to develop hyperlocal websites. A former journalist from the Washington Post, Jim Brady, is starting a new project brother.ly, set in Philadelphia and supported by a community of local bloggers able to inform about what is happening in their close surroundings.

Several other projects are launched in various parts of the US, all of them based on the contribution of bloggers who want to provide useful informations on their small community. It is worth noting that all large industrial projects of networks of local news sites have failed dismally.

It gives food for thought for the large regional newspapers that dominate the French scene. They were highly profitable when print advertising was triumphant and brought safe incomes. Now, this resource is fading away and their organization, heavy and costly fails to match the dwindling revenues from ads and sales. It seems that for local and hyperlocal information, small only is beautiful. The next ten years will bring a revolution to the European and American regional press.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

The digital local news

It is very obvious that the offer of local news has badly suffered from the digital revolution.It seems now that websites dealing with national or international news can live and even prosper as is the case of  Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vox or, in France, Mediapart. the same is not true of local information. Regional newspapers, in the US, France or the UK have not found yet the magic potion that will push a signifant number of internauts to subscribe. Pure players have not been successfull either. Most of them had to stop for lack of financing.

There are many reasons for this sad situation: the local news are costly to collect and advertisers and internauts are not eager to pay. The audience is limited and free information is generously provided by local government and specialized sites dealing with entertainment, food or sports. It seems that people are just happy when they get the alerts and the very specific informations that are useful for their everyday life.

Is there a solution ?   My opinion is that pure players are much easier to manage than digital sites connected too closely to print newspapers. Also, a digital offer must include connections to a wide variety of very specialized sites covering all the activities of the nearby city and propose help to any newcomer.All ideas are welcome and each site must find its own economy with the support of the network. However, an isolated local news website has no future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Politico arrives in Europe


The growth of Politico media group  is one of the most interesting processes on the western media scene. Its stunning success is due to the quality of its journalists who were issued from the best US dailies and its combination of website, confidential newsletters and a free sheet delivered in the centre of Washington.  Last year, Politico opened a branch in New York. Now, it intends to start a new website in Brussels to deal with the activities and the lobbies of the European Union.

Considering the experience of Politico people with the politics and the lobbies of Washington, it looks like a great idea to move to the capital of Europe, in spite of the local competition.

If you look at the website, you are impressed with the quality of the magazine that covers more and more international affairs. Six years ago, Politico was devoted to the intricate politics of inside Washington. Now, it is more and more involved in world news and its coverage makes it a useful tool for European readers.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this experience. First, in the digital world, quality pays. The best journalists provide the best stuff which people are willing to buy. Then a print newspaper is not very good at launching new innovative digital products. Politico would not have grown the way it did if it had been a branch of the Washington Post. Last but not least, is it possible to start such a digital powerhouse in Europe? I would say yes but it takes the initiative of good news professionals and business savvy managers. They exist in France, Germany or the UK. They should start  right now.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Who owns the French media?

Last week the media and entertainment group, the Swiss Ringier presented its results and its policy to a French public of journalists and media executives. It was amazing to watch the ambitious strategy of a group which has spread in eastern Europe, Viet Nam and Africa and is building up a powerful digital branch.

A few weeks ago Schibsted, the Norwegian media group delivered its own accounts. There again the owner of the very successful Leboncoin.fr in France is moving out of Scandinavia, in South America, Spain, France and is a world pioneer in digital ads.

So two small countries, Switzerland and Norwy have produced two world champions of  the media in the new digital age. Normally, France with its 65 millions people and a long tradition of success in the publishing industries, should be a European leader. Unfortunately, it is not the case. Lagardere group is selling all its assets in the media and will probably vanish from the scene within the next ten years. Some wealthy businessmen have bought into the media without any long term strategy. Bouygues's TF1 has never gone far into an  international diversification. Bernard Arnaud and Serge Dassault are happy with les Echos and le Figaro. Xavier Niel seems interested by the growth of group Le Monde and could keep buying into Radio and Internet but he is far from reaching a decisive European position.

The only hope of a French breakthrough in the media and digital world lies with Vivendi, the successful owner of Canal Plus. However, the future of Canal is  unclear and nobody knows what Vincent Bolloré, the new boss of Vivendi intends to do, a sharp contrast with the clear cut vision of Ringier and Schibsted.

As for now, the two dominant groups in France are German. Bertelsmann manages M6, RTL and Prisma media, Springer has bought the most successful French websites, Aufeminin and Seloger.

What could be done? We shall discuss that point in a later blog.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Digital news to day, to morrow


Politico Magazine, published recently a debate on digital news between Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times and Marcus Brauchli, ex executive of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. What will surprise the gloomy French publishers is their positive view of the near future. Admittedly, American newspapers like their European counterparts have been sailing through rough seas these last five years, losing massive income in advertising and circulation. However, since 2013, one sees the coming of new players like Quartz, Buzzfeed or Vox that are ready to invest in quality journalism and hire top writers and reporters. As far as the old press is concerned, the Financial Times and the New York Times seem close to winning the risky gamble of selling online services to a huge public, about 800000 subscribers for the NY Times.

Still one must draw a sharp distinction between national and international news and local news. If you are looking for the best information on Washington, Paris or Kiev, you can find easily the most comprehensive sites on the Web that will provide you in no time with what you are looking for.It also means that only a few news services will be able to cover the whole spectrum of current affairs. This trend is good for the NYT or, in France, for le Monde. Others will have to make choices and specialize.

Local news are another story. In Politico, the two editors complained that it was more and more difficult to get a proper account of state legislatures. In France, the regional newspapers are facing the same quandary: how can you provide a proper coverage of local politics with dwindling resources and less journalists and correspondents. In many countries, in the UK or in France, local government tries to fill the gap, a not very good solution. Let us hope the debate will go on and provide new answers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

le Monde is facing too many challenges

It is not an easy job to be at the helm of le Monde. The  national newspaper which is probably the most prestigious French daily is bleeding and looking for new recipes for growth.

Its circulation has been steadily going down for the last ten years and is now at 275000 copies, a far cry from the distant times when it reached four hundred thousands. However, its colleagues, including le Figaro, do not fare  much better.

Its digital audience is not bad, with 2 millions readers a day, according to Audipresse One and has a fairly large foreign readership.

It is not a surprise if the newspaper was in the red in 2013 by 6 millions euros in spite of a profitable digital branch, le Monde Interactif and 2014 doesn't look any better with declining print circulation and lower advertising income.

And yet, le Monde has strong assets.  Its image is good not only in France but also abroad and its potential for digital development is strong but it needs a strategy. Two big challenges face its owners and its management. One is a decision to move to morning publishing instead of an afternoon distribution which is inefficient and costly. In that case, le Monde should close its printing unit in Ivry and get printed either at le Figaro or by some other Paris unit and get partially printed with regional newspapers out of Paris. This solution would allow the daily to extend a home delivery service through the regional press. The other challenge is the digital policy. It seems obvious that the Monde should adopt the paywall and follow the example of the New York Times even at the risk of losing some advertising income. The future financing of the newspaper is at stake as digital income must increase steadily to make for the vanishing ads.

These decisions are urgent but it is hard to tell what the owners of le Monde who have just bought the newsmagazine Nouvel Observateur intend to do. Are they willing to devote enough time and money to the daily or do they push for building a huge press group including Libération which another risky challenge? An open question and no answer yet.