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.