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.