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.