Monday, January 26, 2009

French-style aid for U.S. press would cost $8B

In case you were wondering, French-style assistance for the American newspaper industry would cost Uncle Sam about $8 billion.

Even though it’s a safe bet that a government bailout of U.S. newspapers ain’t gonna happen, the French government last week decided to spend $767 million to prop up its nation’s press, according to my friend Frederic Filoux, who served on one of the committees of the government commission that crafted the plan.

The French rescue package is equal to 15% of the $5 billion in revenues generated by the country's newspapers in 2007. Applying the same ratio to the $54.5 billion in advertising and circulation sales booked by U.S. newspapers in 2007, then the price tag for a like-sized package here would come to $8 billion.

Inasmuch as total ad and circ sales for U.S. papers probably were $38.5 billion in 2008, an $8 billion handout from Uncle Sam would cover barely half the shortfall.

Courtesy of Frederic’s blog, here’s a detailed look at les goodies in the French plan:

:: Tax-breaks for newspaper delivery services and news agents.

:: A “huge but still undisclosed” amount of aid for restructuring newspaper production facilities.

:: A doubling of government spending on advertising in newspapers .

:: Free subscriptions for 18 year olds, with “the publisher providing the paper and the government paying for the delivery.”

:: A tax deduction that treats an investment in a newspaper company like a gift to a non-profit organization.

:: A request to the European Union to cut the value-added tax on online newspaper ad purchases to 2.4% from the current 19%.

Frederic isn’t exactly proud of the plan.

“This is not a stimulus package,” he wrote. “This is a Band-Aid to an ailing industry that has a shown a tremendous resistance to change at every level.”

Déjà vu all over again, non?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are things unstated here that the French are doing with their newspapers that could not apply to the United States. They are trying to protect and expand both the use of the French language and its culture. The French also have an inflated view of their role in global foreign policy, which newspapers like Le Monde help perpetuate. But take a second look at these newspapers, and you will see how tepid and boring they are compared with other countries that also subsidize their newspapers. For example, the Dutch lavish a huge subsidy through the purchase of newsprint for books and newspapers. Again, the purpose is to preserve what is left of the Dutch language and culture from being overwhelmed by the larger neighboring French and German cultures, or the American influence. In the United States, we have no similar need to preserve the language, and the culture is perfectly capable of developing itself without more government prodding.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. I am not clear about the purpose of French newspapers. Admittedly, I don't read any. Are they supposed to serve as a watch dog on the French government? Or are they merely a soapbox on which officials can stand while they rehash their latest PR-department-approved quotes?

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting, indeed. I think the idea of providing subscriptions to 18 year olds only makes sense if it's an online subscription. Forcing 18 year olds to look at print just isn't productive. I like the idea of the tax break. While I think that newspapers must evolve to multimedia and have themselves to blame if they don't I also worry about the newsroom staff reductions and what it does to the very important role of newspapers as providers of unbiased, professionally-researched, and confirmed news and information. The very worrisome result of cut backs or even closings of newsrooms and newspapers is a reliance on less reliable and sometimes inaccurate sources that can lead us astray for important decisions. Newsrooms who are forced to cut to the point of bare bones don't do investigative reporting. Remember Watergate? I think there is much to be said for the idea of the U.S. government placing a high enough value on this outcome that there is justification for some bail out. But, were it to happen it has to take the form of teaching them to fish, instead of giving them a fish. It has to be about helping newspapers become multimedia informational services. That being said, it will never happen.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French plan is one of the dozens put forward over the last couple of decades. NONE of the Paris daily are making money except for Le Parisien (with national edition Aujourd'hui, over 500,000 daily) owned by the Amaury group, who also owns the pure sport daily L'Équipe (300,000). If we forget La Croix, a catholic daily, with nevertheless a circulation of over 100,000! Le Monde, has a national circulation of a bit over 300,000 copies, and is loosing money, even after buying the south-west Midi-Libre group, a gold mine, it was unable to profit from it, finally selling it to Sud-Ouest. Le Monde is controlled (officially) by it's journalist who have a veto right. Everybody and their mothers know that Le Monde is the “official” voice of the French government of the day. Reading between the lines of Le Monde Diplomatique is required weekly by most diplomats around the world. Said “Diplomatique” being again editorialy “independant” from Le Monde. Less known outside of France, but in the same circulation range is Le Figaro, France oldest newspaper. It's a right wing (for France) newspaper: a.k.a: left of the New-York Times. The communist have L'Humanité at 50,000, in their case, part of the financing comes from the annual “Fête de l'Humanité” now going on it's 75th edition. The annual Woodstock like fair, brings hundred of thousand to hundred of stands, and headliners, who have included over the years: Pink Floyd, ,The Who and Stevie Wonder to name a few. Mister Filloux old gig, Libération is always in crisis ( leftist style) and still has a circulation of over 300,000.
While a weekly, the Canard Enchainé, (400,000) is less a satarical newspaper than the outlet for the “affaires”, all the getting and going of France politics and government. The number of scandals exposed by the Canard is impressive.
Now to put in perspective, multiply all circualtions numbers by 5 to compare with the USA.
In fact, there is more diversity in the National French media that it is possible to dream in the USA.
Even more interesting is the regional press. And especially Ouest-France, the world largest circulation daily at more than 700,000 copies a day. Or is it one daily? 40 different editions every day, more than 800 different pages, almost 600 journalist and editors, plus 2,500 or so correspondent. It may be the way of the future: It is “officially” owned by a foundation and it's journalist have a say in the running of the paper. Mr. Filloux would be better able to continue commenting on Ouest-France since it is the French partner of 20 Minutes where he is the editor.
By the way, the free newspaper for 18 years old is a gimmick used last year by Ouest-France.
The distribution aspect is the subject of discussion dating from the foundation of Nouvelles Messageries de la presse parisienne NMPP after the war. NMPP has (by the 1947 Bichet law) the responsibility of distributing the so called National Press (Paris) and magazines. Except for the Parisien Libéré in Paris (a long, long saga à la française).
The dream of NMPP is obvious: La France c'est Paris (France is Paris), Paris c'est la France and let's go on.
While the article writes about the so call bailout, Mr. Sarkosy real contribution to the well being of the newspaper came with the withdrawal of advertising on French public, a “gift” valued by the print media at between 100 and 200 millions Euro, year after year.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what happens when a French 18-year-old decides he wants to use his free government newspaper subscription for a neo-Nazi newspaper?

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Answer to Anonymous
First a correction, Ouest-France is not the largest circulation daily, only the largest French (as in the language) circulation. Still proportionnaly, the combined Journal de Montréal/Journal de Québec (which shares a lot of items) makes them the most read French daily in the world.
About the nazi paper. Illegal to publish under one of the oldest 'Press law' in existence (1881) a famous recent case is the Reynouard one early this millenium.

5:13 PM  

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