The French government is to give all 18 to 24-year-olds a free newspaper once a week for a year as part of 600 million euro aid package for the press. The concept was originally outlined in January, when the government announced its plan to offer French teenagers a year-long subscription to the newspaper of their choice, commencing on the day of their 18th birthday. The extension of the age range was announced yesterday at the Ministry of Culture meeting of the États généraux de la presse.
The idea has proven to be a particularly controversial component of the government's package of financing and reform formulated to restore the health of the French printed press. The Sarkozy administration has dedicated an exceptional 200 million euros a year, for a 3-year period, to aid the printed press. The Culture Ministry announced during the meeting that more than half of this year's budget had already been designated.
Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture and Communication, explained the future benefits that the enlargement of the subscription project would have on the news industry in terms of tapping into a fresh market: "the newspaper unions are expecting 200,000 subscriptions, from a pool of 750,000 young potential readers".
The government is investing heavily in the cause of the French newspaper industry. The subscription project will cost the state 5 million euros a year. Moreover, to help the press adapt to the digital age, the government has dedicated a further budget of 20 million euros to this specific need. It is hoped that the announcement of further tax cuts for agents buying shares in titles and donating to press bodies will encourage outside investment.
Yet according to Le Figaro, the hardest issue remains to be resolved. The government needs to negotiate a "new social contract" between trade unions and editors. This agreement is necessary if printing costs, a considerable financial drain on publishers, are to be reduced.
The free subscription project was one of ten recommendations to the French government made by a sub-committee commissioned to investigate the deficiencies in youth readership. The idea had already been trialled by Ouest-France and 41 regional newspapers. The project was launched in 2006 and offered 18 to 24-year-olds a free subscription to a daily newspaper once a week.
According to Jeanne-Emmanuelle Hutin of Ouest-France and deputy head of the French presidential youth press commission, Ouest-France was one of the regional newspapers that reported a clear 'positive' results from the subscription projects with a 15 percent renewal rate. However, Hutin suggested that the factors encouraging subscribers to continue reading the publication had a lot to do with the specific efforts made by the titles to appeal to this audience. She emphasised that the government also strongly supported use of newspapers in schools to assure an early habit of newspaper reading and general innovation by newspapers to do a better job of attracting a generation that is clearly digital.
Aralynn McMane, director of young readership development at the World Association of Newspapers, thinks the extension is an improvement: "What international research tells us is that newspapers must make special new efforts at the moment a young person leaves home. That said, if youth material is simply an add-on instead of an ingrained attitude throughout the company and product, it's not going to work."
Source: Le Figaro