Thursday, October 25, 2012

Public support of the press

France is one of the European leaders in its indiscriminate public aid of the press. It seems that this situation cannot last at a time of budget penury. Michel Françaix, a socialist MP in charge of the budget of public subsidies of the press has just published his very useful annual report and seems to agree.

What does he say? That a great part of these generous subsidies go to publications which have no connexions with general citizens'information.As an example, he shows that the numerous TV magazines collect as much as 53 millions euros of privileged postal rates. 35% of the public aid goes to magazines, most of them beeing purely commercial businesses while the national and regional dailies receive only 39% of the total aid.

The situation is not better as far as the press distribution is concerned. The government subsidizes heavily the postal service which is less and less efficient and Presstalis which is collapsing and reduces its aid to the home delivery service which is the best solution for carrying newspapers to their customers.

The failure of Groupe Hersant and Presstalis shows very clearly that the public subsidies service is both costly and inefficient. Many European countries, small like Norway or big like Germany are host to dynamic media groups eager to invest and increase their presence on Internet and yet, they get much less public support than in France. What France needs is a creative public policy that will promote pluralism and self development. The Françaix report suggests some solutions. Lets hope the prime minister and the president will listen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The fate of Newsweek

It was not a big surprise to learn that Newsweek owner put an end to a 80 years old  prestigious career in the print and turn it into a digital publication.

So, it was not a surprise but was it a smart move? I doubt it.

Digital media face two handicaps, to be visible and to be user friendly. By leaving the print, Newsweek will vanish from the kiosks and will have to fight a uphill battle with too many competitors who occupy already a comfortable seat on the Internet stage. Moreover, pure players such as Slate or Salon or sophisticated newspapers sites like the New York Times are very attractive for the internauts as they offer a wide range of news, video, blogs and good connections to the social networks. Newsweek disapeared from the print world because it added no value to saturated readers. The same will apply to the Internet. Unfortunately, this fine weekly is doomed and will be absorbed by the fairly successful Daily Beast.

One more question. What will happen to the too many French newsmagazines? Are they bound to disappear like Newsweek? Are they useless? For the time beeing, I will try a tentative no. They obviously profit from the weakness of the French dailies. None of them covers extensively in print and on the web, the current affairs as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post still do. So the French Express, le Point or Nouvel Observateur can still contribute to the information of a large public which is often frustrated by the slim content of money starved dailies.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Murdoch and the digital revolution

Rupert Murdoch has been the most powerful media mogul of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. So his decision to quit his position of chairman of the London Times added to his previous parting of his group in two branches, one devoted to television and the new media and the other one including the old media, i.e. newspapers, gives a lot of food for thought.

In a recent article in the New York Times, the Reuters media correspondant speculates that it means the sale of the print publications of the group and specially the Times. Yet the big question is: who could buy these old fashioned and deficit ridden print products. They are not profitable but they still carry some power and influence: one could imagine that a foreign investor, Chinese, Russian or Indian could be tempted to enter the field. It would be a rude blow for the British estabilshment.

However, a recent study from the Pew research center would justify Murdoch's decision. In 10 years, in the US, the proportion of people who look for information in the print press has gone down from 41 to 23%. 55% of the readers of the New York Times use the digital edition. 71% of the population keeps informed thanks to TV news.

The social networks are still informing a minority but they grow steadily, from 9 to 19%.

In Europe, the figures would be lower but they move in the same direction. Television is the dominant media. Internet is more and more popular thanks to mobiles and tablets. Face book and Twitter attract people under 35. Old Murdoch is probably right to stick to Fox and BskyB.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Group Hersant

Now a solution is about to be found for Group Hersant. Rossel was willing to buy the whole group, including the overseas papers for 55 millions euros. The banks have not considered it to be  a fair price. They prefer to sell each title separately as they hope the operation to be more profitable. It seems that local investors could be interested by France Antilles and la Provence. Rossel will bargain for the eastern dailies which are losing several millions euros a year and need a full reorganization.

Still, it is doubtful that the banks will recover most of their loans. And yet, they face another deadline with Sud Ouest, heavily indebted and unable to pay back. That will be the next drama of the regional press.

Who is willing to put money in newspapers? We shall get the answer soon and it will not be pretty.