Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hersant and co

The Hersant group is close to exhaustion. Its free sheets branch Comareg is bankrupt. Its newspapers are in deep trouble. However endless negociations go on with the banks and a prospective buyer, groupe Rossel. 20 banks are hard to agree, specially in this time of financial crisis. Rossel is willing to move forward but at its conditions, which means a complete reorganization of the newspapers and 700 hundred jobs in jeopardy.

It is obvious that Hersant family will have to dramatically reduce its share in the group, the ownership beeing shared between Rossel and the main banks. It is also plain that Hersant will have to sell its jewels, the othersea publications, France Antilles and co.

Will the matters be settled before the end of the year? I doubt it. Group Hersant is moving towards unchartered territory.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The New York Times wins the battle of the web

A few days ago, Jim Roberts, the editor in charge of Internet in the newsroom of the NYT went to Paris. With a few colleagues, we discussed with him the main topics concerning the Web policy of the Grey Lady.

Jim admitted that the conversion of the print journalists to digital reporting was not an easy job and took some time. According to him, no more than 200 out of the 1000 that works in the newsroom are really involved in writing for the Web.

Still most people agree with the new rythm of 24hrs a day that is implied by the merger of print and Internet. Articles are put on the site as soon as they are ready,without ever waiting for the print edition. Moreover, journalists are invited to use the social networks, Facebook and Twitter to dispatch pieces of information. Clearly, the social networks are a way to promote the image of the Times, a big PR device. Also, a team of 20 collects video news.

Concerning the new paying wall, it seems to be successful, even if it admits some holes ie the use of Google or Facebook to have a free access to the news. Figures look good: 700 000 subscribers from the print edition, 320 000 digital only. The total amount is one million. However, the income from the subscriptions and advertising are still much lower than the receipts of the print edition but Jim refused to give more figures.

Asked about the recent creation of a community of trusted commentators, Jim said that it was both a way to reduce the cost of moderation and a mean to recruit experts who would contribute to the content of the print and the Web. The combination of this community and the development of curation would allow the Times to play a central role on the information market, to be a "Google of the news".

Speaking of the future, Jim admitted that three big issues remained: the working of the paywall, the applications on the mobile tablets and the use of the social networks. The Times keeps testing these issues.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The future of webjournalism

On December 1st and 2nd the specialists of webjournalism met in Metz to discuss the tricky relationship between the Web and the various media, press web sites or pure players.
During the debate, there was a sharp contrast between the users of the web and the social networks and the people in charge of press sites who have to manage journalists and check the facts.
Professional internauts dream of a space where a permanent flow of news moves through Twitter and Facebook and is connected thanks to hypertext links to every kind of information produced in every part of the world.

The web site executives worry about the credibility of their output and the financing of their work. They need two things which are not easy to get in the Web paradise: time to assess the news and money to pay their staff.
It seems that a dialogue is difficult to manage as positions, both of them interesting and useful, are so far away from each other.
And yet, the main point is what does the public wants. From what we know, it is attracted to safe offers supported by labels such as the New York Times or le Monde. It is even beginning to agree to pay if the quality is there. Still, the concept of curation, ie the multiplication of links is getting more popular. It is a clever way to enrich the news offer without drowning the public with hundreds of messages.
The debate goes on. We'll go back to it very soon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Presstalis and newspapers delivery

Last week, the board of Presstalis decided unanimously to keep the delivery of national dailies. So it said no to the offer of the regional newspapers which have already started the home delivery of le Monde and are willing to move further with their very efficient networks.

Echoes from the regional newspapers show that they consider the battle is not lost. It is an open secret that the executives of le Figaro and le Monde are more than willing to drop the expensive service of Presstalis and transfer to the regional press network. Yet, the delicate balance of powers inside Presstalis prevents them, for the moment, from taking a drastic decision on a matter which is highly sensitive.

And yet, nobody sees clearly the future of Presstalis Its losses are impressive, about 50 million euros and nobody, neither the government nor the press is willing to foot the bill. The loss of the newspapers delivery would certainly oblige everybody to face a dark reality. It would also be a big help to the impecunious national dailies who badly need a better and cheaper service.

A question: will the actors of this drama be able to wait until June 2012, i.e. the presidential elections? Personnaly, I doubt it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The non concentration of the media

The collapse of the remaining part of groupe Hersant is a useful reminder of the weaknesses of French media groups. 20 years ago Lagardère and Hersant were still dominating the media scene and TF1 was supposed to become an European leader in the field of television. Later on Jean Marie Colombani decided to build a powerful group around its flagship newspaper le Monde.

In 2011 the landscape is very different. Hersant group has been split several times. Le Figaro and its magazines belongs to Dassault, until the death of the old man who is 86. the regional dailies have been shared between Rossel, Ouest France and Credit Mutuel. Groupe Hersant Media, the remaining part of the Empire has already lost Its free sheets branch Comareg which filed bankrupcy. The other dailies are on sale with the banks and Rossel arguing about who pays what. Its the end of the debt ridden group Hersant.

Le Monde has given up the imperial dreams of Minc and Colombani. Its only valuable asset now is Telerama which shall be sold one day.
TF1 has not fulfilled the hopes of its former chairman Patrick Le Lay and remains stubbornly inside the French borders. Its too late now to grow outside. Once again, the Germans Springer and Bertelsmann have bought the leadership in Europe and even in France where Bertelsmann owns RTL, M6 and Prisma Press.

As for Lagardere, nobody can figure out the strategy of Arnaud, the son of Jean Luc. He is selling most of his magazines and loses money in the sports field. Lagardere is not a world leader any more.

If you look at the American scene, you realize that the newcomers don't look anymore like the old media powers. In fact, one doesn't know any more what media means. Is Facebook a media? What is the real influenc of Google? It will take years to sort out the disturbed media scene but one thing is sure, the French will be in the back seat.

Monday, October 24, 2011

End of trouble for le Monde?

Are things improving for the most prestigious French daily? It seems that there is some progress and the worse is not a sure thing anymore. Louis Dreyfus, the CEO is close to winning the battle of the printing. The over staffed printing unit is going to be reduced from 220 to 70 employees as only one press will keep working. The regional newspapers agree to print and deliver the copy for out of Paris readers. This way,le Monde will save several millions of euros every year and part of the Ivry print factory can be sold to developers. After four days of strike, it seems that the two printers unions are close to an agreement. A new printing unit set up by Riccobono will be devoted to the magazines of the group and possibly free sheets.

A solution could also be found for the Internet branch which is partially owned by Lagardere. In that case, Le Monde would be in full charge of its most promising venture like all the other newspapers.

Still questions remain on the weekly magazine, delivered on Friday in Paris. It is costly and its content is uneven, to say the least. For the moment, the advertisers seem interested. However, they could flee by next January and the End of the week issue doesn't sell all that well. An assessment will have to takeplace next year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The New York Times challenge

In the last issue of the New Yorker, Ken Auletta,their Media correspondant looks at the New York Times and its new executive editor, a woman, Jill Abramson. For the "gray lady", probably the best newspaper in the world, and its new boss, the challenge is dramatic. The Internet revolution has totally disrupted the working of the dailies. They have lost part of their advertising income and they deal with news which have already reached their readers through the Web.

Auletta reminds us that the Times company has lost money in two of the past five years. During the second quarter of 2011, digital news revenue rose by 15%, thanks to the success of the new digital subscription offer. Now 280000 people subscribe to the digital edition. And yet, print advertising drops more quickly than digital advertising rises and the company lost 120 million dollars during the same second quarter.

Clearly, the roadmap of Jill Abramson is to transform the newspaper into a multimedia operation, where journalists must file both the daily print edition and, several times a day,the online edition. It is an uneasy challenge as the quality of the newspaper must not suffer and the financial question is not solved by far.

Anyway, all the executives of the world newspaper industry must hope that the NYT succeeds.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Huffington Post abroad

Arianna Huffington has been around for several days in Paris and on television to promote the French edition of her electronic publication which is a big success in the US. However, one wonders whether the export of the Huff. Post is a smart move for her and for AOL, her new owner. Various polls show that more and more people check the news on the Web, 70% of the internauts according to a recent survey. And yet, the credibility of many Web services is very low. The same poll values it at 2% for social networks as compared to 21% for newspapers.

Huff.Post is midway between the two systems. It agregates articles picked up from various publications and many blogs provided by various experts who work for free for a very profitable business. The system is fragile and could collapse any time as competition is getting more tough. One wonders why le Monde decided to move in and become a partner of Arianna, with Mathieu Pigasse one of the daily's owners who put his money in this venture.

This move is even more amazing if one considers the success of le Monde on Internet. It has, with les Echos, the highest percentage of electronic subscribers: 6% of its subscribers while le Figaro's is less than 1%. If the French Huff.Post closes down in a few months, who will pay the bill?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Regional newspapers. The future of Hersant group

To morrow, Friday 14, the excutives of the Belgian group Rossel and and Groupe Herasant media (GHM), meet to fix an agreement suggested by the Finance Ministry. If it works, a big if, it will mean that Rossel takes in charge the Eastern and Southern dailies of GHM.

But is it going to work? There is no guarantee for that. Hersant family is not eager to lose its best publications and keep its failing free sheets group Comareg and the deficit ridden Paris Normandie. The banks are eager for cash to pay back for the 200 million euros of debts of GHM.

A failure would mean another setback for Rossel a well managed and prosperous press group that intends to increase its positions in the French press. And yet, a new organisation of the regional newspapers is necessary and will happen sooner or later.

The same can be said of Presstalis whose future seems obscure, to say the least. Nobody is willing to pay for the heavy losses of this company which will probably be replaced by the regional newspapers for the delivery of the national dailies. However, the magazines have no alternative to Presstalis. To get out of this quandary, the actors of the press industry will have to wait for after the presidential elections of May 2012.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Media concentration

The concentration of the media is a thankless process. Huge groups are building up ans suddenly vanish into oblivion or suffer heavy losses. Look at News Corp, the Murdoch group. They have suddenly been forced to close down The News of the World, give up any hope of buying all of Sky TV and been under scrutiny of the US Justice department and Rupert Murdoch is 80.

Same thing in France. In 1995, Robert Hersant died with his all powerful media group. In 2011, Vincent Bollore seems to abandon his ambitious media projects by selling two TV channels to Canal Plus. However, Bertrand Méheut, the CEO of Canal has to justify his position with the regulation authorities, concerning both his new acquisition and TPS satellite service.

In the field of regional newspapers, Bernard Marchant, the chairman of Rossel, owner of Voix du Nord, has been trying for years to build up his position without much success. He failed to buy le Parisien. Groupe La Montagne has been pulling out of a partnership with him and Philippe Hersant seems reluctant to sell him his two dailies, L'Union and Paris Normandie.

One wonders, now if media concentration is still relevant in the time of Google and Apple. There are so many new channels that carry information that traditional processes appear a bit out of date. It is the time of the networks and they are mostly virtual.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bollore sells

The news that Bollore was selling his two TV channels to Canal Plus, on September 8, stunned everybody. It was a coup for Bernard Meheut, the CEO of Canal. Thanks to this costly operation, 465 million euros, he is now able to offer his public, two free channels using all the programs broadcast through Canal pay TV. It is a nice complement to an already very successful broadcaster which has five million subscribers.

For Bollore, the outcome is much less obvious. Due to this sale, the media empire he was slowly building up is falling apart. The Breton tycoon keeps only Direct Matin, a free sheet that loses 10 million euros a year and a local TV on the Riviera. He also pulls the carpet under his son Yannick's feet. It was a common asumption that his heir was to be the boss of a growing media group. Now his fate is not clear anymore.
So, what is the answer to this enigma? Bollore is no fool. he certainly has a long term design. Some people think he could now try to get hold of TF1, a much more exciting prize than Direct Plus and Direct Star. Others wonder if he is aiming at Vivendi, the owner of Canal Plus. After all, he agreed to be paid not in cash but with shares of Vivendi a huge and prosperous media group.

One thing is sure the sale was a first step of a long term project. Wait for the end of the Bollore saga.

Monday, September 5, 2011


On Thursday, Sept. 1st, Bill Nichols, the editor in chief of Politico delivered the opening lecture of the school of Journalism of Sciences-Po. His message was, for me at least, the first ray of hope in the waste land of the news. It is a fact that Politico is a big success story. It started 4 years ago as a web site based in Washington and fully devoted to political news. It employed then 12 people. Now it has a staff of 200, including 150 journalists, it has 4 million unique visitors and it has started a very successful print supplement delivered for free in various spots of Washington. With its advertising receipts and the sale of a high level supplement called Politico Pro, the company breaks even and intends to keep going with new contents.

What is the recipe of Politico ? First, its managers are old hands of journalism, coming from USA Today like Bill or from the Washington Post or other first class newspapers. From the start, their credibility was very high. Also, they adopted very quickly a well adjusted style, taking into account the necessity for speed and easy reading. As Bill Nichols says, it is a kind or tabloidism of political news. The journalists must react at once to any piece of news, put it immediately on the web with further connexions to video and the print. This way, the news hungry public of DC gets all the time, all the news, without waiting for the cumbersome edition of next day Times or WP.

This behaviour does not prevent the staff to think and enlarge the stories. As a recent exemple, Bill mentioned a large debate in the newsroom on Dick Perry, the would be candidate to the Republican nomination. The topic was:"Is Perry dumb?"or is he just a cunning demagogue, using the right sound bites to seduce the Tea party? Several papers were published in Politico to clarify this interesting enigma.

Asked about some new developments, Bill Nichols stressed the interest of a kind of Politico on world news but considered it was too big an investment, due to the cost of foreign correspondants. He also insisted on the necessity to stay in the Washington area; any extension, for instance in New York would be too costly.

So, if Politico is a major acomplishment in the information world, it is not easy to build up alternatives.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What about le Monde?

The Summer was not peaceful for le Monde. The newspaper published a controversial fiction about a financial crisis in 2012. This story was written by an ex journalist from the economic daily la Tribune. It raised strong protests from the "Société des rédacteurs du Monde" (SRM) who considered rightly that the text should have been checked by the competent journalists of the newspaper economic staff. Moreover, the Credit Agricole complained publicly that this paper had treated it very badly, suggesting that it could be bankrupt next year. Of course, it was pure fiction as the editor in chief answered the various complaints but can one play with quoted corporations and the stock exchange ? The impact on a very volatile market was obvious.

It appears that the new organization of the newsroom is far from satisfying The influence of Mathieu Pigasse, one of the owners or Bernard Henri Lévy, member of the board is significant. It could lead to new conflicts before the end of the year.

On August, too, the two printers unions delivered their message: its no to the printing of the daily by the regional newspapers which are more than willing to take in charge the printing and the sales of le Monde out of Paris. This cost saving process seems to be in trouble and yet, there is no other solution for Louis Dreyfus, the publisher. We can expect some strikes on September.

Another big question remains: who is the real boss of le Monde? Is Xavier Niel, the telecom tycoon ready to move to the front and put more money?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

television is the future

A big question: in a climate of major financial crisis, what media will suffer most, which ones will keep growing?
If you look at the ad figures for the first months of 2011, the answer is obvious. Television is the great winner. Newspapers are in very bad shape.

In the US, the Washington Post, for the second quarter, had 12% less in advertising income for print and 16% less on its websites. The only very profitable part of the group was its television network.

Same thing for the New York Times, 6.4% less for ads on print and only plus 2.6 for Internet.

For the same period, the television networks registered a healthy growth of their adsales; (see the analysis of the advertising market in http://nytimes.com).

In France, the situation is similar. The two main private broadcasters, TF1 and M6 had a good first two quarters. The national and regional newspapers suffered badly from a sluggish market. Most of them will be in the red at the end of the year.

Why is television so successful with the advertisers? There are several reasons: television has still a very large audience in spite of Internet or, sometimes, thanks to Internet that provides another access to the programs. Moreover, it is considered as a "safe" media, whose public is well known and measured, contrary to the print. After all, advertisers have used it for 60 years.

These figures are very promising for Vincent Bolloré. He owns two TV channels broadcast on TNT wich are designed to be highly profitable and his free sheets will soon dominate the print market. With the help of Havas, his advertising agency, he is about to be a major player on the media market.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

the news and technical challenges

Things are moving very quickly in the field of communication technology. Take for instance the incredible growth of smartphones. To day 65% of the uses of the Web are still made from computers. In 2015, it will go down to 46% and mobile devices will provide 54%. In 2009, video amounted to 30% of the broadband services. By the end of 2011, it will be 55%.

Another interesting figure, on July, the New York Times announced that their paying service that started on february had already collected 280 000 subscribed, an unexpected success.

What does all that mean to the news executives? First, they must pay more and more attention to mobile supports. Then, they have to aknowledge the fact that with the increase of the videos traffic, the telecom companies will ask a bigger financial contribution from the users, to avoid a bottleneck. However, the success of paywalls of the New York Times and the New Yorker shows that good texts can be as attractive as mediocre videos. A food for thought for a daily like le Monde.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

murdoch again

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this blog that the Murdoch scandal could lead to the sale of the newspapers of the group. A few days later, rumor spread in the British press that the media lord had hinted he could get rid of his London publications. To day, I still believe that the crisis facing the largest media empire in the world could result in a complete reorganization of the group.

However, it is a well known fact that Rupert, contrary to his sons and deputies is a real press maniac (see the report on his behaviour in http://nytimes.com with testimonies from former journalists of News Corp.). If he sells the less profitable but most cherished part of his properties, he will send a strong signal to his many ennemies and rare friends in the media world. It will mean the old man is giving up after 50 years of fight in the world of tabloids. After the disastrous sale of Myspace, it would be another terrible failure.

The next question is: who could buy. Very few investors are interested in print and even the Times of London is not the powerful opinion maker it used to be. The Web and Twitter have gained so much ground that now, according to recent research, 56% of the Americans consult every day the news on the Web.

The outcome of News Corp is a major challenge to all media actors.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The postMurdoch era

What happens after Murdoch? In http://slate.com/, jack Shafer has made many interesting comments. he seems to think that the old man can survive a major crisis that spreads from the UK to the US by firing top executives of News Corp, including his son James. I am not so sure. Rupert has a big handicap, his age. he is 80 and his many ennemies are much younger and very active.

In the New York Times, nytimes.com/, Roger Cohen praised Murdoch for saving the British press by defeating the printers unions in 1986 and buying the deficit ridden Times. All that is true but these events took place long before the internet revolution that has drastically changed the media landscape. Now, the speed of information is such and the damages to people can be so enormous that some rules must be set up. The press doesn't like regulations but a form of legal responsability could be fixed by the law. If attempts at privacy are sanctionned by heavy penalties, the publishers will be more cautious. Their best interest is to make money not to pay expensive fines to a lot of politicians.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

murdoch scandal and new technologies

The Murdoch scandal which has been going on for the last two weeks has many aspects: the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the corruption of the British police, the limitless appetite of the public for titillating gossips. However, one point is rarely stressed, the impact of new technologies on the fabric of information, any kind of information.

Muckracking press is not new. Before the French Revolution, outrageous pamphlets circulated in France and in neighbouring countries. On the beginning of the 20th century, a yellow press was highly successful in the US and in France. Well before Murdoch, the Bild in Germany or, yes, the News of the World in the UK manipulated shamelessly the opinion and the politicians.

And yet, new technologies have drastically changed the game. It is very easy to listen to voicemail and private conversations on cell phones. As it was described in the bestseller Millenium, talented hackers can penetrate the intimacy of any owner of a computer and a mobile. Last but not least, the most vicious gossips and pictures are spread in a few minutes on the Web, thanks to Twitter and Facebook.

The way information worked in the 80's was closer to the Ancien Regime circulation of news than to the present day. But, the rule of law and the ethics of journalists, this dirty word, have never been adjusted to the new world of the media. When a cynical, omnipotent boss is in charge, you can easily imagine what happens. We are right in the middle of a terrible mess that shakes our democraties. We'll discuss the possible solutions in another blog.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A hot Summer for the French press

The Summer will be long and hot for the French press. Here are some matters of reflexion for the various actors of this endangered profession.

First Presstalis. On July 1st, Lagardère dropped out of this unhappy organization and was replaced by the cooperatives of dailies and magazines. However, the yearly deficit of the firm is close to 20 million € and the press is unable to face such losses. There are two possible solutions: to admit a new partner, which seems unlikely in spite of contacts with the Post or to reduce drastically the exposure of Presstalis by dropping the delivery of national newspapers. the regional newspapers are working on proposals to take in charge this delivery and the legislation has been modified by the Parliament to allow this proceeding. A fine opening but it will leave Aujourd'hui and L'Equipe, the two dailies of Group Amaury without any delivery support out of Paris as the regional press consider them as competitors. Moreover, it remains to be seen if Presstalis can survive by delivering only magazines, while it is in competition with MLP which is cheaper and attracts a growing number of publications.

The fate of Presstalis is very much in jeopardy and the many union strikes won't improve the situation.

Second, le Monde. After 3 months of discussions, Louis Dreyfus has not managed to reach a full agreement with the two unions that operate in the printing unit of the daily. However, he should not be blamed for this lackluster performance.

The sick Murdoch Empire

The Murdoch affair is absolutely schoking from an ethical point of view and reveals a high level of corruption in the British police and political establishment. However, there is another aspect of this sordid story, it is the impact on the organization and future of the Murdoch Empire. The closing of the News of the World will cost very little to its owners. According to the New York Times, the annual revenue of this weekly is one billon dollars as compared to 9 billion dollars collected by BskyB. Moreover, it is a well known fact that the Murdoch family does not believe any more in the future of the press. When Rupert decided to pay 5 billion dollars for the Wall Street Journal, his sons disaproved the deal but could not oppose it.

It is very likely that the new developments of this affaire that will lead to the indictment of several members of Murdoch staff ,will weaken the position of the partisans of the press as opposed to the very profitable television and movie branches of the group. The family of the patriarch will probably put more pressure on him to get rid of these unpleasant dailies that carry a lot of trouble and very little profit. The big question is: will Murdoch clean his group before he leaves or will he try to keep things going against the wish of his whole family?

the New York Times and Twitter

Last Sunday, the New York Times presented its new supplement that replaces the week in review. It is focused on opinions and long papers aiming at explaining the current news. It seems that this new presentation is fairly successful, as people are looking for an assessment of the plethoric informations that reach their computers or their smartphones.

In a way, the gray lady is trying to make for the frustration brought by Twitter or the other social networks. For educated readers it is exciting to discover that every minute, something is happening on the Planet but is it enough or even necessary? Will several unchecked news of 140 signs replace a comprehensive analysis of Strauss Kahn legal case? If you want to understand and not just to know, you cannot be happy with the current newsflows.

So the attempt of the NYT is worth considering. If it works, many other newspapers will follow this exemple or, at least, I hope so.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rossel and the regional press

Bernard Marchant is a probably the best newspaper manager in France. Unfortunately, he is Belgian. His success as owner of both the Brussels Le Soir and the French La Voix du Nord, is striking if you compare him to his colleagues of France's regional newspapers. He is both a pragmatist and a very active businessman who believes in the future of newspapers if they are well managed and have a user friendly approach to the Web.

He has stated many times that he wanted to increase his share of the French press. He would have been a very successful owner of Le Parisien if ms Amaury had been willing to sell him. Now, his deal with la Montagne is the first step in the building up of what will probably be, in a few years, the largest French group. Watch out, the man has many good ideas and is willing to move quickly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Le Monde and the future of newspapers

Beeing the adviser of the societe des redacteurs du Monde, the organization of the famous newspaper's journalists, I attended yesterday their annual meeting. The climate was not good. 35 journalists are leaving after the takeover by the new owners. Only seven have been replaced as of yesterday. The figures of avertising and circulation are going South. The printers union or, rather the two printers unions are on strike, once or twice a week, to prevent a necessary reduction of the plethoric staff of the presses. Nobody knows for sure what the three shareholders, Bergé, Niel and Pigasse (BNP) intend to do in the long term.

So the journalists were down and pessimistic and yet, I think they were wrong. If one thinks that the content is more important than any kind of support or delivery system, then Le Monde is far ahead in the competition. When a big event occurs readers rush to the newspaper or its website. When you look at its Internet audience, you realize that it is the major news provider in the French speaking community. It seems obvious that money can be done out of it. If the printing question is solved, if advertising works better, if Internet and the print merge harmoniously, Le Monde would face a bright future. Of course, it will be a very different newspaper but it will live. It was the message I tried to convey to my friends. I hope they listened.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

the Washington Post and the Web journalism

When the press was allowed to look through the 25000 e-mails exchanged by Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska, the newspapers faced a quandary: this piece of news was fascinating but hard to exploit with the reduced staff of the most prestigious dailies. The Washington Post, like some of its colleagues, decided to ask for volunteers to go on their behalf to Anchorage and work on this amazing amount of documents. Several hundred people were eager to do it. However, as the ombudsman of the WP had to admit, the end result was uneven. Many volunteers had no experience of journalism and ignored the intricacies of the government of Alaska. To them, most of the blogs were impossible to decipher while they were extremely clear to the few journalists specialized in Anchorage and petrol politics.

So, the ombudsman had to reckon lamely that sometimes a good journalist could do a good job. (see http://washingtonpost.com).

And it is obvious that Google is not the solution. On the website of the New York Review of Books (http://nybooks.com), Sue Halpern reveals the way the new algorithms of the Web giant function. When you look for a word, the answer you get takes into account your previous searches. It means that the answer is adjusted to the mind of the internaut. It also means that two people looking for the same words, for instance "the climate evolution", get different answers, according to their idiosyncrasies. However, they have no way to check and everybody is convinced he gets the same items than his neighbour. So Google acts exactly against the basic laws of information while pretending to inform everybody.

all that means there is a future for quality information.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

the price of the news

Last week, there was a buzz on the Web about the blog of the syrian lesbian woman who was supposedly arrested by the Syrian police. Fortunately, some Internet detectives relized that nobody had ever had a direct contact with this victim of a police state. We know now that the author of the blog, Mr Mac Gregor is a US citizen from Georgia who said he wanted to attract the attention of the public to the crimes of the Syrian government.

This stort brings a lot of comfort to the old fashioned newspapers people, including myself. It proves that it is a necessary if painful task to check facts and to know who speaks about what. As I am in an optimisitic mood, I will say that I believe that more and more people are aware of this necessity as good information is the blood of democracy. It is a fact that the Syrian hoax was possible only because there is no freedom in Assad's country. It is also a fact that information is a costly process but we must repeat endlessly that people must be willing to pay if they want to receive an acurate picture of the world wher they live.

Monday, May 9, 2011

the cost of newspapers

It was announced last week that Aaron Kushner, a Massachussets businessman who made a fortune through Internet, was willing to buy the Boston Globe group for 200 millions dollars.

Just to refresh your memory: the New York Times bought the Boston Globe and its local branches, 15 years ago for 1.4 billion dollars. The powerful New York daily has been trying, for the last two years, to sell it, in order to make for its heavy losses. Still, the top management of the Manhattan publication must have been traumatized by Kushner's offer. Is it possible that the value of newspapers has gone down so far and so quickly?

Michel Lucas, chairman of Credit Mutuel has probably the same reaction. Four years ago, he bought the regional daily Républicain Lorrain for 80 millions euros. To day, he is trying to sell it through Banque Rothschild but cannot expect an offer exceeding 40 millions. It seems that the banker is reluctant to let appear such a loss in his assets. It is very likely that Credit Mutuel will wait until the retirement of Lucas to sell this dubious acquisition.

One of the major facts of the economy of the media is the downfall of the value of the newspapers. Amaury family made the same experience, last fall when they put le Parisien on the market. Good times are over and will never come back. It is much more profitable to invest in television or Websites. Soon, the newspaper industry will just be a branch of more prosperous television and Internet corporations.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Internet above all

The last figures from the US show the continuing rise of Internet. According to the Pew center, 46% of the American get their information from the Web against 40% from the paper. Last year, for the first time but not the last Internet attracted more advertising income than the press. No doubt that the same figures will occur in Europe in 2 or 3 years.

And yet, there is a lot of food for thought when we consider the future of information. There is an enormous buzz with the social networks, Facebook and Twitter that provide a disturbing amount of news delivered in a stunning disorder. Is it what we really expect from news organizations? Of course not but what do we expect every day and, more and more, every hour?

We want to learn facts quickly. We want also to be in touch with in depth analysis that imply tens and hundreds of experts. We seek an order we used to find in the average newspaper and yet, we want to react and send our opinion with one click.

We are reluctant to pay but demand a very costly news collection. To put it briefly, the public must make up its mind. The New York Times states that it has already 100 000 paid subscribers. It could collect this way 30 millions dollars per year. This is a good start. Lets hope for the next stage: a self sufficient Web and paper news organization.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The web economy. Who pays what?

When I learnt that The Huffington Post was sold for 315 million dollars, I smelled trouble. As I said in my blog posted on February 15, the many bloggers who have worked for free for years, for the sake of Ariana H. would not appreciate the sale of their contributions. Unfortunately for Ms Huffington, I was right. Some bloggers are starting a legal dispute that could last for a long time. French sites are not out of the loop either. A recent article from le Monde mentioned that at Rue 89, some bloggers were starting to ask for fees, considering they were contributing to the audience of this successful pure player. In fact, it seems obvious that the whole economy of information on the Web is changing again. Social networks and specially, Facebook, are used more and more to deliver pieces of news. So is Youtube. In cases like that, you cannot ask people to pay. Display advertising is a solution but will it be enough? As far as Facebook is concerned, its ads revenue is skyrocketing. It was 2 billion dollars last year. It will be 4 billions this year. In february, in the US, one third of display ads went to Facebook. Still, this income doesn't go to the providers but to the owners of Facebook. We are back to the Hufpost.

Same thing for the forums which are managed by a new population of professionals. They bring a lot of audience and many useful informations but are they really profitable? It is a well Known fact that they must be monitored permanently by the social managers who are employees of the sites.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

print and deliver: the newspapers challenge

For months, the national and regional dailies have been working on a new organization that could change dramatically their ways of working and drastically improve their economy.

Now, the deadline is getting very close indeed. Are we about to start a revolution in printing and delivery? The executives at le Figaro, le Monde or Libération seem to think so. The idea is quite simple: why should they print the issues sold in the provinces, with very expensive machines working near Paris and then carry them by truck or train which are costly and carbon consumming? These three dailies can easily be printed in Lyon, Rennes or Strasbourg by the regional presses and be delivered by the very efficient networks of the regional newspapers. Millions of euros could be saved this way.

Such a solution would allow le Figaro and le Monde to reduce their printing capacities in Paris and escape the heavy machinery of Presstalis, the national delivery system of newspapers created in 1947 and now half dead. In Paris region, the distribution organization of le Parisien could easily play the same part. In that case, the national dailies could greatly improve their offer of home delivery which has always been a strong asset of the regional dailies.

It seems that the national newspapers which are losing on both circulation and advertising and face increasing costs of production and logistics, are ready to jump. It appears too that the government is willing to help. So, we can expect some big decisions before the coming summer.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The gamble of the New York Times

I must inform you I have subscribed to the new digital offer of the New York Times. Now, lets see why I jumped into the pit. There are several reasons, good or bad, we'll see later. 1- I am a compulsive user of the web site of the grey lady and obviously, 20 articles for free per month was too limited for my greed of international news, opinions, book reviews and more. 2- The initial offer of the NYT was quite cheap: 11 dollars or 8 euros for illimited use on my computer and I-phone for 4 months. I know it will go up in 12 months but I could not wait. 3- I know that nerds can get for free through Google, social networks or various gimmicks, all they want to read in the NYT but it takes time and a Web acumen I don't share. When I want to reach quickly the very last news on Lybia, I don't enjoy maneuvering through the networks. Last but not least, as a newspaperman myself, I strongly believe that you cannot deliver news for ever, for free. For information lovers, the economic situation of one of the best world dailies is a permanent worry. Where the NYT will find the money to finance 1000 journalists who cover just everything happening in the world? The answer is simple. People will have to pay.
Still, the new system is not easy to grasp and it remains to see whether readers will follow up. If the NYT earns half a million of subscribers, the world over, the gamble will pay off. If not, we shall move even more quickly towards a two level information organization: a free news delivery, fast and superficial and a sophisticated one, very expensive for a minority of top executives.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

the new advertising landscape

The advertising figures released in France and in the US show very clearly the new trends in the economy of the media.
According to IREP, 2010 was a good year for the French media. Television income increased by 11%. Internet display rose by 12%. However, things are not so good for the press whose advertising income decreased by 1.6. The magazines fared quite well (+4.7) but the national dailies made a modest increase of 2.3 and the regional newspapers lost 2.2. If you add up the bad results of the free sheets and the local weeklies, you realize that the print industry is lagging behind television and Internet and this trend continues in 2011.
In the States, the same process is at work. Television and specially, local television had a very good year with an increase of about 10%. the same with Internet which is soon to be the second advertising media in the country. Figures are very bad for the daily newspapers (-8.2) in spite of a raise of 10% for the press websites. According to the specialists, 2010 was the worst year for the dailies in 25 years.
My opinion is that the daily press can survive only if it plays well with the Web and the print. There is still a strong need for a good daily information.
A species in danger is the newsmagazine. The fall of Newsweek in the US, delivers a strong signal. It is practically impossible to provide interesting or exciting news on a weekly basis. If you pick up the right websites, you get what you need at any moment. Speaking of France, I don't believe that four newsmagazines can live on a narrowing market.
All that means that new upheavals are to be foreseen in the near future.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The challenge of current news

For the first time, major events occur in the world at a time when a great part of the world population is connected to the Web and its social networks through computers and mobiles, smartphones and tablets. The last great upheaval that happened in 1989 seems ages away. At that time, people got mainly informed through television, newspapers and newsmagazines. Today, they follow the Arab revolts and the cataclysm in Japan with information websites, Twitter, Facebook and various text and video applications on their smartphones.
When I open my newspaper, I find that there is very little I want to read. I skip the pages that deal with the current news on Japan end Lybia. I know already what is in it. Of course, dailies and newsmagazines try to go further and explain more thoroughly what is happening and how people feel. However, their long papers seem already bypassed by the current news that jump on the screen of my I Pad and video sequences provided by all news channels are much more explicit than a written explanation.
What I believe is that this new way of beeing informed means the end of the newsmagazines and daily publications. Journalists and publishers must think hard how to keep people informed and interested in times of emergency. I will go back to this all important topic, very soon.

Le Monde, another story

Le Monde is facing a new stage of its long story as its managers have, at last, to solve the tricky problem of its printing. The present unit is obsolete and overstaffed. Ideally, it should be closed down and the newspaper could be printed anywhere. Le Figaro with its brand new printing unit at Le Tremblay is willing to do the job. Moreover, regional newspapers have large capacities to print the copies on sale in the provinces.
Still Louis Dreyfus, le Monde's CEO and his team must make tough choices: how to negociate with the Unions the exit of 150 or more workers, how to strike a deal with the regional newspapers for the printing and delivery of the daily and, last but not least, whether to transfer from afternoon to morning newspaper.
If le Monde remains published at midday, its printing elsewhere will be easy. All printing units in Paris and the provinces have huge capacities which are unemployed in the morning. However, the delivery in the afternoon to the provincial readers will be quite expensive as it will be necessary to build up a new organization. If Le Monde becomes a morning daily, its delivery will be much easier as it can join the circuits of the regional press but it will be difficult to find a place in the night planning of the printers. Whatever the solution, the new management of le Monde must make tough decisions before June, the deadline fixed by the government.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The internet delusion

I have already mentionned the seminal book from Evgueny Morozov on the "Internet Delusion". His focus is the complex relationship between Internet and Democracy and he shows, very convincingly, that the Web is just an instrument that can be used for or against freedom of speech.
The same delusion exists when I look at the interaction between Internet and Information. In the last issue of hishttp://mondaynote.com/, Frédéric Filloux delivers the last figures of the Washington Post Company. It shows, once more, that the prestigious daily has been losing money and circulation (less 7.5%) in 2010. What saves the Post is the earnings from its television branch and its huge education subsidiary, Kaplan.
And yet, people are eager for news, world news, local news but they are highly reluctant to pay as they already subscribe to an internet provider such as Orange or Free in France. The providers refuse to finance the news because they represent just a tiny share of the Web traffic. And advertising is present all over Internet and not only on news sites.
However, I am optimistic on the future of news services. They will be less on paper. It is possible that the system of daily newspapers is about to collapse and print publications will simply be offered once or twice a week. It is likeley that the way journalists work will change drastically as they are asked to provide both instant news on the Web and more in depth analysis on paper and Internet. The financing will include various contributions from advertising (display ads are thriving these last few months), subscriptions, private foundations that begin to play a role in the US. We'll find the money for doing other things. To morrow will be very different from to day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The pitfalls of Internet

Recent books and events give us a lot of food for thought. Everything is moving at a tremendous speed. The obvious becomes dated or totally wrong. Internet is very far from a mature human activity but is it really human anymore ? Some examples.

A shattering book, just published in the US and already very commented by the media buzz: "The net delusion" from a young whiz kid, born in Belarus but teaching now in American universities : Evgueny Morozov.
Morozov knows a lot about authoritarian regimes. After all, when he was born, Soviet Union still existed. His point is that the Web is not the miraculous instrument that will promote democratic forces all over the world. Twitter and Facebook did not save from destruction the green movement in Iran in 2009. On the contrary, Facebook provides a lot of useful informations to the police states inquiring into their rebels lives. True, the book was written last year, before the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts which were orchestrated by Twitter. However, Morozov would probably remind his readers that history teaches us that a dictatorship collapses when its supporters, the army, the police, the government, stop fighting for it because they have lost their belief in the system. It is what happened in 1989. The end of the cold war was caused by the crisis of the socialist economy and the loss of faith of the communist parties leaders and it happened long before the discovery of the social networks. In a nutshell, Morozov states convincingly that internet is not the all powerful tool to build democracy in the rest of the world.
Another topic that puts in question the Web magic. Many internauts were deeply disturbed when they learnt that AOL was buying Huffington Post for 315 millions dollars while Twitter is valued at several billions. What these two services have in common? They are both thriving on free contributions brought by thousands of bloggers. Is it fair that the owners of these companies will make a fantastic amount of cash out of the unpaid work of numerous contributors? Once again, one has to face the persistant matter of the value of news. But what makes it worse is that social networks, including Facebook carry more and more pieces of news that they get for free and compete with the newspapers websites and pure players. From this point of view, the attempt of Murdoch to launch his paid electronic Daily on I-Pad must be closely watched. Will he make it? Is he to close to a print newspaper? We shall know soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

the distribution quagmire

Newspapers and magazines are not only concerned by the crisis of Presstalis. They also have to find the best solutions for the delivery of their electronic products.
At the beginning, in the nineties, things were quite simple. The papers just needed to open a website where they would transfer most of their content, hoping for the public to rush and read their stuff on their computers. advertising was supposed to finance the whole process.

By now, things are more more complicated. If people, including young customers, keep a strong interest in news, it is far from obvious that they are looking on the Web for a copy of the print dailies or magazines. What they mostly want is to pick up what is of use for them on any site or any support.
And there are many possibilities. You can go to agregators such as Google or Yahoo news, or, in the US, Huffington post. They can look at videos on Yutube or Facebook. They can also connect with Twitters for instant and very short pieces of information.
The computer is no longer the only support. Smartphones and tablets offer many applications made by print publications or pure players.
Distribution networks are many. Big questions arise: who is getting the money, who has access to the customers or the subscribers? Telecom operators complain that their networks cannot afford to transfer huge quantities of data, mostly video and pictures. Apple has set up a system that allows it to get 30% of the money of the applications and keep for its own use the lists of the subscribers.
And yet there are rays of hope for the print industry. Big firms like Apple and Google have to face a stiff competition from various actors including Facebook. They will have to relent and agree with some compromises with newspapers and magazines that provide a very useful content. Moreover display advertising on Internet is growing with great speed: 40% in France last year. The New York Times gets now 25% of its advertising recepts from its Websites. Stronger publications, if they act together, should get better deals from their many partners.

Friday, January 28, 2011

the media mercato

The brownian movement of the media executives that has occured during the last two months, is very worrying, according to one of my friend journalists who has been following the scene for many years.
Why that worry? According to him, it shows the deep crisis of the traditional media who try desperately to find new men or women to solve problems which are due to structural change. It also increases the gap between the low income of the young journalists and the extravagant salaries of the top executives. A graduate of a school of journalism will be happy to start with 2000 euros a month. His boss will make 30 000.
And yet, who can expect that Nicolas Demorand will improve the financial situation of Libération or the new chairman of le Figaro will increase the lagging circulation of the daily. Will Denis Olivennes create a miracle at Europe 1 after several years of stand by at le Nouvel Observateur? Nobody can believe that.
The fact is that there is a crisis of the media and not a crisis of information. People are more and more eager to have access to the news and even willing to pay if the information is really useful to them. But, they are not carried away any more by the average media while Internet and applications offer so many intriguing possibilities. It will take years to adjust to this new scenery. For that purpose, the expensive media mercato of to day is useless. It is even counterproductive.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Le Monde and co

The selection committee chaired by Pierre Bergé has delivered his decision yesterday. Erik Izralewicz is picked up to be the next publisher of le Monde if he gets a 60% approval from the journalists.
This choice is very fortunate. E I is a talented journalist with a wide experience earned at le Monde but also as editor in chief of les Echos and la Tribune. The other 12 candidates were obviously not up to the job and nobody can doubt his capacity to keep an independant stance in front of the three owners. Moreover, he issued a remarkable statement to the committee, explaining very clearly how he intended to work with the newsroom and the digital branch of the newspaper. One can be sure that he will start long expected reforms that will allow the daily to be more active, more exciting and using more the content of its very successful website
If the newspapers have a future, it is thanks to a combination of massive savings on printing and delivery and a sharing of news between the web and the print, the web beeing used for a permanent flux of news, the print for analysis and comment. it means a big effort for the newsroom which has to be convinces that its survival is at stake.

Monday, January 17, 2011


To day's New York Times website explains why the magazines applications on the I-Pad don't work. The main reason is that Apple doesn't allow magazines to offer yearly subscriptions on the tablet. If you want to read the New Yorker, you must buy each issue at a price hardly lower than the paper copy. Moreover, Apple refuses to give informations on the buyers.
This schedule is most unusual for magazines which are used to offer long term subscriptions to their print editions and work very hard on their thousands of subscribers. For the average customer, the Apple offer is not attractive at all. Why should they bother to buy an electronic version of their favorite magazine when they can get it every week or month at a much lower price in a good print version?
In fact, it seems that Apple is fighting a rearguard battle. New tablets are appearing on the market that will offer much better conditions to the publications and subscribers. Apple will have to follow its competitors after having lost the opportunity to dominate the market.
One thing remains to be seen: are tablets the magic solution for the press woes?

Le Monde again

The long painful process of choosing a new publisher for le Monde is on its way. 12 candidates have showed up. Only 3 or 4 can be considered as serious. The owners have made it clear that they want to put in charge somebody who is young, around 40 and dynamic. However, they have to find an agreement with the association of journalists (SRM). And, I may add that there are not so many people in Paris who are able to manage a famous daily which has to face major reforms and notably to define a long term strategy for Its Website.

Two months after the change of ownership, it appears that groupe le Monde is a multiheaded monster with many people eager to make decisions without consulting each other. The 3 owners, the new CEO, the SRM and also outside partners such as Publicis and Lagardère, all compete to define a policy. The future publisher will be another actor on a very crowded stage.
The end result could be a takeover from Xavier Niel, the only man who owns most of the money. The big question is: what does he want to do?

Monday, January 10, 2011

the multiple challenges of le Monde

According to various informations, the lengthy and painful process of nomination of a publisher for le Monde, starts this week. The number of inside and outside candidates is close to ten. And yet, nobody can tell whether this nomination will put an end to the troubles of the famous newspaper.
In fact, the new publisher will have to face a permanent conflict which could turn into a war of attrition between the owners and the top editorial staff. As no global strategy has been devised by the shareholders, the publisher will be at a loss to fix his role. He will also have to cope with the challenge of finding a solution for the digital branch of the group.
It seems that the owners want to rush to a global system that would solve in a few months all the problems that have been pending for 10 years. I don't think that it is a wise way working. For le Monde, there are priorities: the printing and the digital and 2011 will hardly be long enough to follow succesfully this process.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The failed eldorado of I-Pad

Last week, I wrote in this chronicle that the I-Pad was not the eldorado expected by the print industry. I did not expect to get a confirmation so quickly. Yesterday, two articles publishedbyhttp://www.numerama;com/magazines and http://www.mondaynote.com that both gave the figures of subscriptions of US magazines on I-Pad, showed that these subscriptions were a failure.
Take for instance Wired, the famous magazine devoted to Internet. 100000 people subscribed on June 23000 remained on November. Vanity Fait went down from 10 to 8000. Glamour, from 4300 to 2800.
Other worrying news came from the French operator Orange. Its sales of I-Pad went bust. Only 30 000 were delivered before Christmas. A bad figure for a product that was supposed to be on the top of the list of New year gifts.
Two conclusions can be drawn from these figures. First, the magazines don't work in the same way as daily newspapers. The screen, cannot easily compete with glossy paper magazines. Newspapers provide a flux of news that is easy to manage on Internet. Hence, the success of dailies seems more obvious on tablets than Vanity Fair.
The second conclusion is that nobody knows yet how news can best be delivered on various supports, computers, I-phone, I-pad. What do people want? Are they ready to follow the process of a print daily, moving from page 1 to page 40, or, which is more likely, do they want to pick pieces of news, according to their main interests? In that case, what are they willing to pay? Certainly not 1,50 euros, which is the cost of le Monde or le Figaro. They also begin to consider that the providers such as Orange get too greedy which could explain the deceptive sales figures of I-Pad.
A lot of food for thought for the year 2011.