Tuesday, 20 April, 2010

Technology versus content

From Frederic Filloux: “Le Figaro’s new facilities are able to address several of its competitors’ printing needs. The most obvious is Le Monde whose printing plant is obsolete and costly to operate (too many people). The two papers now use the same page size (a ‘Berliner’ format), and are produced at a different time of the day. A perfect fit in theory. Mr. Morel [Francis Morel CEO of Le Figaro] denies vehemently having any intentions of harmingLe Monde. But there is no need to be a Wharton scholar to see the two torpedoes Le Figaro is firing at its competitor: one is the better looking and cheaper ads, the other a more commercially potent printing plant. At least, ‘Le Fig’ might print the business paper Les Echosand perhaps one of the three free papers.

“But the real potential for Le Figaro’s online revenue lies in the readership duplication rate between print and web. Today, only 20% of the print readers also visit the website, this is quite low when compared to the 30% to 45% its competitors experience. This points to the paper’s generation problem: 42% of Le Figaro’s readers are 60 years-old and above, compared to 27% for the rest of the French press; naturally, the web is expected to rejuvenate its audience. Today, LeFigaro.fr is the #1 newspaper site in France with more than 5 million unique visitors a month (OK, thanks to some questionable measurement tricks). Still, each time 10 web users are gained, this translates into 2 more print readers (along with 10-15 times more revenue per reader on paper side).” 1

Marie Benilde writing recently in Le Monde Diplomatique quotes the assessment of a banker at the French National Conference in Strasbourg in 2006: “Journalists are now in the same situation as steel workers in 1970’s : they are destined to disappear, but they don’t know it.” Benilde cites the loss of 2,300 jobs in the French press last year, and about the financial performance of the press last year she adds, “Every national daily in France, apart from the sports daily, L’Equipe, has lost money.” 2

The owners of the Indian news dailies are by and large not gamblers. Those who have made large investments in new technology are looking at a sure thing although it could take time. Nevertheless, to use their new and modern capabilities, they will need a huge growth in product and unfortunately they are thus far focussing mostly on their own product which will rarely if ever drive their presses 24/7. The new technology allows for better colour and more diverse offerings in the newspaper package and an integrated approach to new and cross media. The issue for the Indian news or media organisations is one of vision and content. Print is still growing as the most impactful part of the news package in this society but since the demographic is changing, for the news or media organisation of the future, the key issues are vision and imagination. Machinery and new plants can be bought – where will the content and engagement come from?

--Naresh Khanna

1. From A Case Study: Le Figaro’s Advertising Gamble
September 20, 2009 - 11:08 am Edited by Frédéric Filloux
2. The end of newspapers Le Monde Diplomatique Marie Benilde, English in Hard News, April 2010, New Delhi

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