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.