The French regional press: a fragile fortress


For the French regional and local press, it is far from the hecatomb as in the United States or in other countries. But as many indicators show at half-mast, the regional daily press (PQR) is fragile and must not miss its transition to digital.

If we do not witness the proliferation of securities closures in France, it is primarily because a certain concentration has already taken place. "The daily departmental press has consolidated from the 60s – we went from about forty titles to about fifteen today – and it has been absorbed by PQR groups over the last 25 years, says Jean -Clément Texier, specialist of the sector. Similarly, the regional weekly press, which took off in the 1950s and today serves 260 titles hyperlocal demand, belongs for more than half to the PQR, including Ouest-France and La Voix du Nord (Rossel). "

Political power

Even today, groups like Ebra, Crédit Mutuel's subsidiary, which groups together 9 titles in eastern France ("Le Progrès", "L'Est Républicain", etc.) are rationalizing the sector with the closure of printing plants or the pooling of logistics tools. These groups already weigh heavily: 550 million euros of turnover for Ebra and 330 million for a West-France. In addition, they have many subscribers, which eliminates cash flow problems, explains Philippe Carli, the president of Ebra.

Other favorable factors have occurred. "Compared to the United States, French or even Belgian markets are more regulated and protected by distinct identities," explains Bernard Marchant, head of Rossel ("La Voix du Nord" …). Finally, external factors intervene. As the battle around "Nice-Matin" alone illustrates, regional newspapers remain attractive because they have good real estate assets and because they remain politically influential at the local level.

Decrease of 10% of the workforce

That being said, the paid circulation of the regional and departmental press plunged from 5.7 million copies each day in 1996 before the Internet to 3.8 million last year with a recent acceleration. The kiosk network is disappearing less quickly than in Paris but it is also decreasing. Similarly over ten years, the number of press cards fell by 9.6%, against 6.7% for the national daily press, according to the social barometer of the Assises of Journalism,
sociologist Jean-Marie Charon.

    "Few media bosses will say that social plans are over," he says. Ebra is deleting 383 posts, even though he's creating 284 in new features, for example. "All our newspapers are profitable, but 10% gross margin and it would take 25% to be comfortable," said Bernard Marchant.

First, as the national press, the PQR suffers from the decline in advertising on its paper editions and the capture of growth on the digital by Google and Facebook. "We are in a period of painful transition," says Jean-Michel Baylet, CEO of "La Dépêche du Midi" and President of the Regional Press Union (UPREG). Never has the PQR had so much audience with digital, but the monetization is not yet developed because the Gafa plunder our recipes.

Then, the local press is no longer the only vector of local information. Town halls, sports clubs, etc. all have their website. Suddenly, the question of the editorial line arises. "We are mass media not niche, explains Bernard Marchant. The first challenge is to keep audiences strong. Most titles focus on local news, not competing with the national press. the way is open because new entrants to the American very localized are not yet solvent, says Jean-Clément Texier.

The challenge of audiovisual reform

Compared to this positioning, Ouest-France with its 500,000 paper subscribers and its audience of 3 million readers stands out. "Ouest-France is not just a regional newspaper," explains Louis Echelard, chairman of the executive board. From our region we talk about the country and the world. The group strengthens its journalistic teams in Paris and abroad.

Finally, the PQR is behind digital subscriptions, especially because the local information is not associated with paying on the Internet in the minds of readers. Sophie Gourmelen, CEO of "Parisian", explains that "one of the major challenges for PQR is to develop digital content with paid markers".

In this already delicate context, the PQR escaped the worst for legal announcements, a sector that could have been completely open to competition. But it is likely to lose the banned sectors of television, such as retail, and face the possibility for the chains to advertise geolocated. "We are fighting an absolute crusade against that," said Jean-Michel Baylet. The argument is that the PQR is a guarantee of social ties in the territories.

If the audiovisual law were to endorse these changes, it will cut costs again, warns Bernard Marchant … The pressure for concentration movements to continue would also increase, even if the boss of Ebra Philippe Carli think that the groups can be content to pool certain efforts, since they do not compete on their respective territories.


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