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.