Frédéric Filloux, editor for Schibsted and co-author of the weekly media newsletter Monday Note, has criticised the way the French government is subsidising the newspaper industry, at a time when the new body representing online news publishers, Syndicat de la Presse Indépendante en Ligne, is currently debating whether or not to accept subsidies.
Filloux suggests that much unnecessary expenditure - travel, or expensive technology upgrades, for example - is justified by the fact that it is state money, and points out that a total of €1.2bn of aid was given to the press in 2008, which amounts to 12% of the sector's revenue. The value of French subsidies rose by 71% between 2003 and 2007, compared to 21% in Sweden, while Swedish readership is three times higher than in France. He discusses the French free newspaper scheme for young people, under which 18 to 24 year-olds are being offered a free copy daily newspaper of their choice, once a week. This scheme, which was announced in January and launched last month, involves the participation of 59 newspapers, which will provide the free copies, with the government paying for distribution.
This attempt to restore newspaper readership among the young is flawed from the start, according to Filloux. For a start, the scheme was only available to the first 200.000 to sign up, which Filloux described as a "speed-based form of Darwinism," pointing out that this amounts to only about 2% of that age group. And one can imagine that those 200,000 who snapped up the offer in the first few days it was available were already newspaper readers.
Providing a newspaper once a week is also not enough to promote loyalty, believes Filloux. "It would have been smarter to set up one full week subscription at a given moment of the year," he suggests, "the experience of continuity is key to understanding a newspaper's true value, its diversity of views and the depth of its coverage (plus it would make more sense from a logistics standpoint)."
Filloux points to the success of the Ouest-France scheme: the paper gives away free subscriptions to the young for a year and has seen a 12% conversion rate to paid ones. However, the paper coupled this offer with special content targeted at these younger readers. He also highlighted the achievements of Brazil's Zero Hora, winner of the WAN-IFRA World Young Reader's prize, whose Total Youth Think approach has given it impressively high penetration among the under-30s.
Today's young people have grown up with more choices than ever before on how they want to obtain information, and for newspapers to retain their relevance in society in years to come, it is necessary to capture the attention of this digital generation. Looking at the content of papers, as well as subsidising the price, is clearly an essential step.
Source: Monday Note