Monday, October 5, 2015

Regional newspapers the fall season

Last week, minority shareholders of the  regional daily NRCO based in the center of France announced they were willing to sell 25% of the daily's capital. Press observers wondered aloud who would be foolish enough to buy.
Many newspapers are or could be on sale. It is the case of Sud Ouest, number 2 of the regional press whose owners are trying to find a way out without losing too much. Sud Ouest group was valued 300 millions euros, 10 years ago. Now it would be around 60 millions.

Nice Matin, the once prosperous Riviera daily is deep into financial trouble. It is owned presently by its employees but it is obvious they will have to rely very soon on a local investor.

On the eastern part of France the many dailies belong to a bank, Crédit Mutuel. Their circulation is droping fast and they move deep in the red. The aging chairman of the bank, Michel Lucas or his successor will have to sell soon but, once again, who could buy?

One group seems to be willing to reorganize this devastated field, it is the Belgian Rossel which owns already Voix du Nord and several publications in the East of France. It has however to find a proper financing not only to buy in but also to buy out the redundant employees, mostly printers who are less and less necessary in the digital age.

As I have explained many times in this blog, US local press does not offer a remedy to the decline of the regional dailies. On the other side of the Atlantic, things don't go well. One has to think very thoroughly about what users consider is valuable in local news.

Digital news service needs subscribers

A hard lesson learnt these last few years by the digital news operatives is that advertising is not the solution to finance an ambitious news service. This is why, Facebook offer of advanced articles from legacy media is well received by powerful newspapers such as the NYT or the Guardian who prefer to share advertising with the huge social network rather than trying a hopeless competition with it.

Still, there is nothing better than a loyal population of subscribers. To attract them, many media have tried a counter rule. Once you have read 10 articles during the month, you must subscribe if you want to read more. The NYT, the New Yorker or, in France, le Monde or le Figaro have used this system with some success.

However, the Finacial Times is working on a new kind of offer: if you want to try the FT, you can subscribe for one month, for 1 euro and then, if you re convinced with the quality, you will subscribe for the year, at a normal rate. The Washnington Post is going the same way with an offer of 19.99 dollars for the first year.

The FT considers that it is important to keep a readership  for the full publication and not for scattered articles you can also get on Twitter or Facebook. It is an intersting effort to justify the existence of a proper media, with its various chronicles while the users tend to pick up pieces of news all over the Web. The last figures show that the FT strategy works but one must never forget that people are willing to pay only for top quality. The news digital services are under tough darwinian laws.