Monday, March 26, 2012

Presstalis again

A few days ago, I was talking with an ex executive of Presstalis. I offered him my congratulations for having left on time the sinking ship and I asked him what he figured as a solution to this intractable problem. His answer was clear. He observed that the sales of newspapers and magazines have been going down, every year by more than 5%. So a company totaly dedicated to the press delivery has no future as its business is schrincking day after day without any hope of recovery. The best solution, according to him was a settlement allowing private firms of logistics to take in charge the delivery system. However, somebody will have to pay for the transfer and nobody, whether it is the government or the press is willing to foot the bill which, according to les Echos, could go up to 170 millions euros.

I discussed the same topic with an executive of le Monde. He was fully aware of the coming bankrupcy of Presstalis that could happen any time and looking for an issue. The government is paralyzed by the coming elections and it would take some time for the regional newspapers to take in charge the delivery of the national dailies. It is one more worry for le Monde which has not achieved yet the downsizing of its printing unit.

The Washington Post website is free

In the Sunday edition of the Washington Post dated March 25, the ombudsman discusses the possibility to set up a paywall on the Washington Post website. His conclusion which he obviously shares with the top management is: no paywall for us.

And yet, in the US, more and more newspapers turn to asking fees to their internauts. It is the case of the New York Times which announces 500000 subscribers wiling to pay 15 dollars to have a full access. The Gannet group has also transfered its 80 regional newspapers to a paying service. The Los Angeles Times has also set up a paywall since March 5.

And yet, some newspapers in America and in Europe are reluctant to move forward. The WP for instance considers that its Internet readership is not big enough to start such a move. It is afraid of losing too many internauts and it hopes to attract readers who are not willing to pay for the New York Times. They are also aware that there are many ways to get articles for free through Facebook or Google search engines, a situation that the Times management recognizes but considers is not relevant.

In France,the management of le Monde is of two minds on the pay wall. Its subscription rate is very expensive, 14 euros per month and you can get a large choice of articles for free on My opinion is that le Monde which has a powerful image could follow the exemple of the Times and collect hundreds of thousands of subscribers with a moderate rate of about 8 euros a month and a much reduced free offer.

Anyway, the lesson of the last few years is that advertising will never finance the news on the Web. Readers will have to pay if they want to stay well informed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Do you read e-books?

The Paris book fair starts this Thursday, March 15 and once again the big question of e-publishing looms high on the horizon of European and American publishers.

For the moment,the main challenge for publishing comes from the sale of books on Internet thanks to Amazon. it is a major threat for the bookshops and a quandary for the publishers who badly need to find ways to deliver informations on their production. Until now, bookshops played the role of information centers and nobody knows how to replace them. In America, the vanishing bookshops leave publishers in desarray. In France, we are not there yet but 10% of the sales of print books are already processed through digital platforms.
The e-book is another matter. Its sales grow to about 15% in the US but stay at 1% in France. Threre is no doubt that the Kindle, cheap and efficient, will boost the sales thanks to Amazon. However, one can see the same process than for the press. Illustrated books like magazines will not move so easily to electronic publishing. Black and white text books have a more promising future and they can be sold at a much lower price than print books.

Then there is the field of applications which compete with non fiction illustrated books.They are offered to the Internauts for free or at a very low rate of 1 or 2 euros.However, it costs about 20 or 30000 euros to build one of them which means that publishers will not recover easily their investment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The media and the president

I go on with my comments on the media policy of the future president. I strongly believe that the government should keep away, as much as possible from the organization of the medias. However, if you consider that the media are an important activity which employ a huge number of people and can export an image and some influence, you must admit that it can be part of an efficient industrial policy.

From that point of view, France's media do not fare any better than other branches of the economy. There are no powerful multimedia groups in our country and foreign interests have invested heavily, buying dailies, magazines, TV stations and websites. That means that the main worry to day is not the concntration of the media but the small size and less efficient management of the communication organizations that still belong to French interests. Yesterday, the German Springer boasted its success in digital activities based on two French companies it bought recently: Seloger and Aufeminin. Schibsted, owner of Leboncoin is one of the most successful mediagroups in Europe although it started on the small market of Norway (5 millions inhabitants).

If France decides to have an industrial policy like most of its European neighbours, it must include in this great design the media and most notably, the digital media which will shape the future of our economy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The presidential election and the media

On June,there will be a newly elected president in France. Whether he will be Nicolas Sarkozy or his challenger, Francois Hollande, he will have to handle very quickly some important dossiers.

The more urgent will be the fate of Presstalis, the huge and not very efficient press delivery organization. Presstalis has been losing money for many years. Its main shareholder, Lagardere, got tired of financing its 20 millions euros yearly losses and pulled out last year, leaving the firm to two daily and magazine cooperatives which are both penniless. Next June, Presstalis will be practically bankrupt and may stop functionning altogether, wich means that press delivery could stop suddenly in France. The new government will have to chose between two unpleasant solutions. Either, it will invest public funds to fill a growing gap or it will undertake a major upheaval of a system which was set up 65 years ago and is now a hopeless mess. The heavily unionized employees of Presstalis are sure to fight adamantly against any drastic staff reduction although it is overdue. For the socialist Hollande it will not be the best opening of his presidency. If Sarkozy is elected he will have every reason to regret not having solved the Presstalis quandary four years ago, when he launched an ambitious reorganization of the French press.

Now, it is too late to save the old order. Common sense tells us that the press must follow the rules of delivery that apply to any other product. It is not a matter of privilege any more. Will the new government use his common sense?

My next blog will deal with the other aspects of a public policy of the media.