Monday, December 29, 2014

The French legacy media in 2015

In a recent article, the New York Times provides an extensive list of the American media executives who will be on a "hot seat" in 2015. The same could be said of the French legacy media.

Let us start with group Express. Its flagship publication, the newsmagazine Express has been in trouble for 2 years with a sharp fall in advertising and a slow decline of circulation. Many observers consider that the era of newsmagazines is over in France as in Germany or the US and that Express has no future. The group's owner, Rick de Nolf faces the unhappy dilemma of keeping the ailing publication or selling it at a discount rate. He bought the group 10 years ago for 220 millions € and according to bankers, its present value is around 50 millions.

The two other newsmagazines, Le Point and l'Obs are not in a much better shape. They see their advertising income going South and suffer from the competition of the websites which are very dynamic indeed. It seems that only one of them can survive and 2015 will be the year of reckoning.

Dailies do not fare much better. Once again, le Monde will be in the red. Its selling price will go up to 2.20€ which will mean a new decrease of its circulation combined with low expectations in advertising. And yet, the print makes 80% of the income of the newspaper. Le Monde should definitely improve its marketing policy to boost its print and digital subscriptions.

Regional newspapers will probably face another year of decline of advertising and classified at a pace of 8% a year. In 2015, attention will focus on Sud Ouest which is trying to sell its sister daily Midi Libre and has to repay a loan to its bankers. It is obvious that new partners will have to be found, very soon.

Are digital media ready to take over? There again, the picture is mixed. Apart from le Monde and le Figaro, the legacy media websites are not profitable. Pure players are also lagging behind their Anglo-Saxon competitors, Mediapart being the only success story. By the end of this coming year, Politico will open a site in Brussels, followed by the Guardian and more and more French people read English.

However, the most interesting challenge of 2015 will be the digital coverage of local news. There, new opportunities should be seized.

Monday, December 1, 2014

local news on the Web

I have mentioned many times the hard fact that local news are not a web favorite. Their readership is sparse, their sponsors are few or depend too much on local government. However, the fate of democracy in Europe or in the US is highly dependant on a comprehensive coverage of local politics and economic challenges.

In France, no regional newspaper, whether it is Ouest France, Sud Ouest or Voix du Nord has been able to launch a credible alternative to the print. It raises a big question: are legacy media better placed to innovate on the Web? They still raise enough money through the print to finance a big newsroom and a network of local correspondants but it won't last. Advertising is running away and will never come back. Permanent losses are the future.

So what about a pure player? It is possible, as long as it covers a huge territory, lets say South East or Britanny. In that case it should have a small team of journalists working on long papers dealing with the major dossiers of the region and a powerful network of corresponadnats able to cover every part of the zone.

What about the public? It should be a population of motivated internauts, willing to pay a monthly subscription, provided that they are permanently informed on what is happening in the neighbourhood. Forget the daily publication of a bundle of news. It is not what they look for. They use more and more smartphones, very good for breaking news, not so easy for long papers which are less urgent and can be read once a week on a tablet or a computer.

Does this population exist? I believe so but it requires fast and valuable news. There is plenty of it in every city. You just need to look for it and deliver it immediately. Then people will agree to pay. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The future of legacy media

It appears that year 2014 is a year of new assessments, a cross road where the legacy and new media followed new paths that will remain the same for years to come.

Two major processes became obvious these last few months.
First, the triumph of news websites which after many unsuccessful attempts seem to find the proper recipes to drag audiences et finance their efforts, as long as they deal with national and international pieces of information. However, their shape is very different from the usual print press. They collect data spread all other the place, they rely heavily, too heavily maybe, on Google and social networks such as Facebook which is slowly turning into a new and very powerful media. they mix up more and more text and video, blurring the lines between traditional media, press, radio and TV.

Then, the legacy media keep drowning, losing for ever advertising income and their readership. The success of their Web services is uneven. Some seem to make it like the NY Times, le Monde or le Figaro. Others, dailies or magazines are trailing behind and, anyway, none of them is able to finance properly a strong investigation team. If and when they vanish, what will replace them?

The big question, I will treat next time in this blog is the future of information. What do people want? What are they willing to pay? What level of information is necessary in a democratic society? Keep tuned. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is the New York Times model working?

The 3rd quarter results of the NY Times are mixed. Print advertising keeps going down, by 5.3% so is the print circulation. The new digital applications are not very successful and the Gray lady has dropped its Opinion app. which did not attract enough subscribers. So the diversification of the great daily digital services is disappointing to say the least.
However, subscriptions to the digital edition keep growing to 875000 customers And digital advertising is up by16.5%. The current loss is due mainly to the cost of buying out 100 journalists from the newsroom.

The conclusion is that the global trend of the digital policy of the NYT is fairly successful. More and more people read the digital edition and pay for it between 15 and 20 dollars a month. Advertisers are also coming and financing a growing part of the very large and expensive newsroom.

And yet, there are two limits to this growth. First, the fact that people rely more and more on new circuits, unforeseen 5 years ago: the social networks and specially Facebook which works more and more like a media and then the  internaut uses more and more the smartphone, notably the enlarged one which means a different access to the news and to the ads.

All that means that the NYT like the Guardian or the FT must think very hard about a non so distant future. 5 years are a very long time in the digital age.

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.

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, 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 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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The press economic challenge: are there answers?

The results of Audience One, published last week, were quite a shock to media observers. The two publications with the largest audience, print plus web were Femme Actuelle, a women's weekly and 20 Minutes, a daily free sheet. Prestigious national newspapers, such as le Monde and le Figaro were far behind.

And yet, 20 Minutes lost money in 2013 and Femme Actuelle is not as prosperous as it used to be ten years ago.

We face once again the quandary of the press in Western countries: how is it possible to get enough money from growing web audiences. There is an important population, close to ten millions people in a country like France, which is  eager for news and willing to pay, up to a point. However, nobody has been able to reproduce the magic system that made the old press so prosperous for one century i.e. selling price plus advertising.  For the moment public and private subsidies make for the lacking resources. In France, government subsidies amount to 10% of the press income. In the US, private foundations and wealthy patrons are providing the equivalent. Everybody knows the story of Pierre Omidyar who is putting 250 millions dollars in information websites.

One sees the same process with local news. In the US, wealthy businessmen start buying regional newspapers which they hope to improve with thriving websites. In France, the same process will probably happen.Investing in local news is risky gamble but it should pay off in the long term. People want to know what happens in their neighbourhood and they will subscribe if the service is cheap and efficient.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More on local news

The collection of local news is an expensive process. Until now, it was financed by the print papers, thanks to sales and a very profitable advertising policy. In 2014, things look a bit different. The overall cost is the same, about 600 millions euros for France and for salaries only but the  press income is going down as   classified ads are massively moving to Internet.

Sure, a website covering current affairs for a 800 000 people metropolis should be fairly cheap. No print and no delivery charges. Just salaries for 4 journalists, 10 local correspondents a sales manager  and 2 technicians plus overhead expenses. An annual budget of 700 000 euros should be enough to provide a permanent flow of texts and videos.

However, it could be difficult to finance it. The audience would be limited because of so many specialized sites such as Allo Cine that offer useful information for free. That means that a paywall would not work and that advertising is risky.

So what could be the solution? Most likely an enlargement of the offer with connections to other websites devoted to sports, fooding, entertainment. It would mean the slow building up of a loyal public and a network of shops, sporting clubs, various associations, each willing to pay a small fee to be registered and promoted.

It would be a fairly long process but there is probably no other opportunity to succeed on the local market.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

local news at the digital age

Are local news manageable in the new digital age? This is a big question for American and French regional newspapers. As far as national and foreign news are concerned, the answer is getting quite clear. It is now possible to launch websites that attract a huge public and can be profitable. The last Pew report on news states very clearly that after ten years of search and failures, things are starting to move in the right direction. In France, the success of Mediapart shows that we can have our own Politico.

For local news, there is no proper issue. The fact is that regional dailies built their success on an efficient mix-up of information and useful data on day to day life. 30 years ago, you had to buy the paper to know what was happening in cinemas, theatres, concert halls, shopping centres and also the sporting life. To day, you just need to connect for free to the right website, such as Allo Cine or the city hall site and you get from home every kind of information you need to survive in the big city.

In fact, the global newspaper is slowly vanishing. Now, you have a local news press agency that provides you with pieces of information you don't always need and current life websites managed by people who are not journalists. What could happen next? We'll discuss it in another blog.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Newspapers sell their digital sites

Last January, the Guardian sold for 985 millions dollars its very profitable website of cars digital sales. This month, the various American press groups that own are putting it on sale for 3 billions dollars. It means, for instance, that Gannett, the largest American newspapers group will reap 810 millions and Mc Clatchy, 750 millions.

Any expert of the news industry will wonder why ailing newspapers facing a permanent reduction of sales and advertising and bound to move, as quickly as possible into the digital age, are selling their more profitable assets, losing copious dividends and ad market advantages.

To this obvious question, the Guardian states that it intends to invest on a grand scale into the digital services of the daily, hoping in a few years to turn its digital branch into a profitable venture.

It seems that the American groups expect to ease their pulling out of the print industry by using this huge amount of cash to buy into television networks. This way, Gannett and Tribune could drop their dailies and become prosperous TV and Internet  businesses. The case of Mc Clatchy is a bit different as they seek to get rid of their debts, maybe to sell later on their print activities.

What does it mean? The most likely answer is that the owners of the press industry, following the example of the Graham family, are giving up on their print business and moving to more promising fields, Internet but also television which is still highly profitable if well managed.

At the same time, many young people, helped by wealthy sponsors try to figure out the future of the news industry. They are the Gannett and Tribune of to morrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

digital journalism new trends, new hopes

In an important post on the Columbia Journalism Review web site, Dean Starkman stresses the new trends of digital journalism. He shows that during the last two years things have clarified and some heated debates have been definitely closed.

One major debate was about paywall or not paywall.  Now, it appears clearly that the traditional media have to accept paywalls. The NY Times, the WSJ, the Financial Times have very successfully moved in that direction. Although it is not a panacea, it makes for  a growing share of the losses of the print press. The only exception is the Guardian but its offer on tablets is already under a paywall and there are more and more people who use tablets.

However, people agree to pay if they get quality news and long reporting. Recent experience has shown that the public doesn't buy anymore hazardous informations spread by the social networks. The pure players can do it and some are very successful like Huffington Post or Buzzfeed but they too try to be more professional and pick up talented journalists to improve their offer. The print press is sick but it is still a model. After all, it seems that quality journalism has a future

What is really worrying is the fate of local news collection. In the US, local newspapers and websites don't find their way and lose audience and money. It seems that the public is willing to pay for national and world affairs, for economic news and, maybe, sports but is not motivated on what's happening next door. This trend which can be spotted too in France means that other actors are entering the game: highly specialized sites, local government services. A big question: is there a future for independent local news collectors? By now, there is no answer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Is the London Times a model for le Monde and le Figaro?

What happens to the pay digital service of the London Times? The Columbia Journalism Review offers an interesting assessment.

When Murdoch decided four years ago to move the digital service of the Times to a fully paid offer, a lot of people considered he was misguided. The common opinion, shared in France by le Figaro and le Monde, was that a successful offer on the web should combine a certain amount of free articles financed by advertising and a subscription for a more extensive coverage of the news. With its pay wall after 15 or 10 free articles, the NY Times made a slightly different offer.

And yet, the more recent figures show that Murdoch is about to succeed. In two years, the number of subscribers went up by 38%. Now, there are 153000 subscribers paying between 3 and 10 dollars a week. Paywall revenues amount now to 60 millions dollars which has greatly helped the Times to reduce its losses, from 120 millions in 2009 to 10 millions last year.

Also, very interesting is the fact that  digital subscribers spend a lot of time reading the daily: 40 mn against 44 mn for the print subscribers. It appears that, contrary to readers who have a free access, digital subscribers behave like the people who buy the print edition. This way, the Times can offer a total readership larger than four years ago.

Sure, the Times, with its hard paywall system doesn't get ad revenues but is it a real problem?
It is a well known fact that advertising on the web is lagging behind as there is such a deadly competition. It could be a safe bet for a newspaper to forget it and try to improve and enlarge in many ways the pay offer.

A lot of food for thought for quality newspapers like le Monde and le Figaro.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Liberation's emergency

Time is running short for Libération. There is no proper shareholder, a growing lack of cash and bankruptcy probably on March. It is a pity for there is certainly a solution for an ailing newspaper. However, the solution implies a total revolution in the working of the newsroom, something which is not easy to realize.

In my opinion, an editorial staff of 60 could provide a good news service centred on the urban population of France. The news delivery system would be a combination of a paid website and a print biweekly financed partially by advertising.The total sales would be much lower than presently but the expenses would also be sharply reduced with a limited printing budget and a drastic reduction of the cost of Presstalis. If the new Liberation provides high quality service it will meet its constituency after 2 or 3 years.

This will probably not happen and it is a shame. I strongly believe that the French public is ready to accept and pay for new digital offers that answer a growing demand. It happens already in the US where booming digital media attract a growing number of talented journalists. The Atlantic is easy to cross.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Liberation Is there a solution?

The newspaper Liberation is deadly sick. Journalists, friends and outside observers are desperately looking for a solution. Is it possible to save the sinking ship?

Let me first compare the daily to two other news providers, La Croix and Mediapart.

3 years ago, the circulation of Liberation was, at 130000 copies and la Croix's sales hardly over 90000. In 2014, the two dailies are at about the same level, 95000. The circulation of la Croix is growing slowly but steadily by 1% a year. For Liberation, the fall has been close to 30%. The two dailies are heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, about 6 millions euros a year each. However, la Croix, with a small staff and a loyal public of subscribers breaks even, Liberation with few subscribers and an errand readership has been in the red for several years.

Take Mediapart. The pure player has 80000 subscribers, not so far from the two dailies. It has a small but dedicated newsroom, a very attractive content. Its audience is growing and it is profitable.

What could be then a recipe for survival for Liberation? Lets be honest, there is no silver bullet but maybe something to try.

I think that the daily should stop being  a daily. It could combine two weekly print publications on Friday and Monday combined with a website. Access to both could be done through a subscription. There would be no free offer and sales of the print in a limited number of newsstands.

The main thing would be the content. Liberation should chose a field which is not well covered by the other national news providers and which is the urban life. Its staff should work on Paris conurbation and 7 or 8 French big cities. A smart combination of scoops and in depth reporting would satisfy a public which is not very well informed about what is really happening in his city.

The publisher should aim at a population of 50000 subscribers to break even. If you consider that the population concerned would be over 15 millions people, it seems attainable.

However, the objective is to catch a loyal readership through a reliable and comprehensive information. There are many young journalists who are eager to comply.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The New York Times in 2013

Year 2013 was not bad for the NY Times whose long term strategy of moving from print to digital proves profitable.

Last year digital revenue of 149 millions euros grew by 36%. The newspaper has now 760000 subscribers to the digital service.

Still, advertising is lagging behind. During the last quarter, print advertising went down by 1.6%, digital advertising was even by minus 0.2%. The print circulation kept decreasing.

What does it mean? First, advertising is less and less the solution for the newspaper industry. During the last quarter, the powerful Gannett group registered a decline of 5.6% of its print advertising. And digital ads don't make it as there are more and more competitors, news and not news, on the market. Look at the figures of Google or Facebook and their fight to conquer the mobile market.

There is only one solution, paid subscriptions. The NYT has been a pioneer in that field and it pays handsomely. However, be careful, the product must be of top quality, the subscription rates must be attractive, the marketing must be efficient.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

French press. Big subsidies and no result

Last week, the Nieman Lab showed how the newsonomics were changing for ever the American media landscape  ( Every month new websites devoted to reporting and current news rise and hire top journalists. Wealthy investors such as Pierre Omydiar are willing to put tens of millions of dollars, hoping for long term results and success.

In France, the situation is far less promising. Pure players, apart from Mediapart are lagging behind. Newspapers try desperately to match their losses of circulation with a fairly modest increase of digital subscriptions: 40000 only for le Monde which is the best. 20000 for le Figaro.

What's happening? French press is the most subsidized in Europe. Dailies and magazines collect close to 1 billion euros of public money to make for losses due mainly to poor management and exorbitant demands from employees.

One question: what would happen if public subsidies were cut by half and limited to the ailing family of dailies and newsmagazines ? My guess is that France would have to follow the model of Germany or the UK. Their press gets much less aid, is better managed and does its best to overcome the digital challenge. The European media groups have successfully played the card of internet. In France, I bet that the media will be saved by complete outsiders, as always in the long history of the press.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Advertising and old media

We stressed last week the fact that in the US, good journalists like Ezra Klein from the Post are willing to live the old industry and its Wonkblog to work with pure players, The Vox in the case of Klein.

The sad story of print advertising can only comfort these changes. Look for instance at the French regional newspapers. In 2013 their global advertising income went down by 6.3%.  It is the third year of decrease and 2014 doesn't look much better. It is a fact that the national income of web advertising for the same papers went up by 28% but it is still far from making for the heavy losses on print.

To day Wan IFRA delivered a fascinating study on classified ads (Wan-IFRA Classifieds Report). It shows through the success story of Schibsted the Norwegian press group that decided to move to the Web 15 years ago that old media and Internet don't work together so well. Why did Schibsted succeed? It is because its ads websites Finn and Bloket worked independently from the papers and even competed very successfully with them. Now Classifieds such as Leboncoin in France make most of the income and profits of Schibsted as newspapers keep declining.

So what is the solution? Pure players are best positioned to conquer markets in news and classifieds and move to the mobiles. If they are connected to a print media, they must keep their own strategy and recruit their own people. One needs new talents for the new field of journalism and advertising.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A revolution in news industry

The news industry is changing so quickly that it is hard sometimes to assess the organization that is emerging in front of us. We keep our eyes fixed on the old press and don't see how people get used to new ways of getting at the news.

Until recently, it seemed obvious that the information would be mainly delivered by websites connected to big newspapers such as the New York Times, the Guardian or le Monde and it is true that their audience is very large with tens of millions of subscribers.

And yet, something new is growing next to them and filling a gap. There are more and more pure players which manage to break even and provide useful information. Take for example, Politico, Quartz, Mediapart in France.

Also, some sites decide to improve their offer by recruiting good journalists and starting some kind of investigation. Look at Buzzfeed or Yahoo whose boss Ms Mayer is trying to set up a good news service that will make the difference with Google. It appears that Facebook and Twitter are ready to move in the same direction.

All these services are also moving as quickly as they can towards more mobile use. The time when people had to connect to their computer to get the news is over. Now users want to be able to catch any bit of information all the time on their smartphone or tablet. It is another challenge as money is not always following the consumers.

So the way is open to a new generation of media moguls who are on the starting blocks and ready to offer new services. After all it is how popular dailies or magazines appeared in the past century, coming from nowhere.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Nouvel Observateur. Is Niel the French Bezos?

The selling of the newsmagazine Nouvel Observateur by Perdriel, its aging but very wealthy owner raises many interesting questions.

First, who is buying? it has been said that the buyer is LML, Le Monde Libre, the holding company which owns le Monde whose three main shareholders are Pierre Berger, Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel. However, Perdriel stated very clearly that he discussed  with Niel, the billionaire owner of Free, the best French equivalent of Jeff Bezos who is the strongman of LML.

Then, the real position of Perdriel is far from clear. His public statements show a will to keep in check the new shareholders and stay in charge for the main decisions. However, it is doubtful that he can still be the boss once he has sold 65% of the company. Remember that Niel promised to keep the top management of le Monde when he bought into the newspaper and the next day he fired the publisher Eric Fottorino. One wonders if Perdriel is aware of this outcome or if his statements are just window dressing.

The fact is that Nouvel Observateur, can only survive through a very thorough reorganization, the buying out of 50 journalists and possibly, a  sharp reduction of its sales which are boosted by an enormous direct marketing budget. These options won't make Perdriel happy.

And last but not least, nobody knows what Xavier Niel intends to do with his new press group. Synergies with le Monde are hard to find. The websites of both publications are competing for the same public. Telerama, the branch of group le Monde is facing Teleobs. It seems obvious that Niel, like Bezos, looks for power and influence but he doesn't like to lose money.