The current configuration of daily print press as a result of the Liberation era (1944-1947), still imprints the current newspapers’ market through policies of State and joint bodies that regulate the market and limit free competition. Despite a highly state-funded system of subsidies and grants as well as anti-concentration laws dedicated to sustain the pluralism and vitality of dailies, a strong, institutionalised configuration that is also change-resistant remains in place and finally contributes to the decline of print press numbers. The law of 23 October, 1984 (modified by the law of 28 November, 1986) puts a restriction to concentration: A single person or firm can control many general nationwide or regional/local news dailies in the limit of 15 percent of the overall circulation of the market. If the owner operates on both the markets, national and regional/local, it can’t exceed the limit of 10 percent of overall circulation in each market. However the national dailies’ market is in dire straits and, according to Professor Toussaint-Desmoulins (2002, p 97), it suffers from “several factors whose negative effects cumulate: 1) a fall of circulation and readership; 2) weak and irregular advertising revenues; 3) badly controlled production and distribution costs; 4) a high selling price; and 5) increased dependency on state subsidies.”
The 2010 decade can be seen as another major turn in the national daily newspapers ownership: Many national dailies have been purchased by French businessmen moguls or holdings. A trio of French wealthy entrepreneurs (Pierre Bergé – died in 2017, Xavier Niel, and Matthieu Pigasse) acquired the flagship of French press Le Monde in 2010 and thus deprived the journalists of the power to run the newspaper as they used to do from its inception in 1944. Another wealthy businessman involved in the telecom industry (Patrick Drahi) became the main shareholder of Liberation in 2015. Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France was sold by the end of 2015 by the Amaury family group to LVMH Médias that already held Les Echos (managed by Bernard Arnault who, in person, also holds 22.8 percent of L’Opinion). Le Figaro is controlled by the weapons and aerospace equipment group Dassault since 2004. Only the communist daily L'Humanité, the new-launched conservative daily L'Opinion, and the far-right newspaper Présent don’t belong to holdings or conglomerates, as well as the sports daily L'Equipe that is held by Amaury, a family-owned publishing company. The catholic daily La Croix is the flagship paper of Bayard, a catholic media and publishing group.
The press covers three major segments of newspapers in France:
- The national daily press of general and political news (la presse quotidienne nationale abbreviated as PQN), which remains a substantial segment of the industry even though it was heavily and firstly hit by the newspaper crisis. The PQN segment includes the daily news and opinion press which has practically disappeared, with the remaining newspapers adopting a more neutral tone and limiting political commentaries to editorial articles and op-ed pages.
- Regional daily newspapers (la presse quotidienne régionale abbreviated as PQR), published in the morning and circulated throughout the 22 metropolitan regions and the 96 metropolitan departments (as well in overseas ones), which are in a much healthier state than the PQN.
- The periodical press (la presse magazine), including five major general weekly news magazines (Marianne, L’Obs, L’Express, Le Point, Valeurs Actuelles) as well as other press products of specialistic nature, can be grouped as a category which is spurred by a financial boom and editorial variety and has succeeded in offsetting the national dailies’ poor economic performance and the regionals’ tendency towards concentration of ownership.
According to the annual report of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, in 2015, 4,124 press outlets have been issued in France, divided in 99 dailies (national, regional and local), 558 weeklies, 1,157 monthlies and 2,206 quarterlies with an overall circulation of 3.9bn copies with 4.8bn printed copies (18 percent of returns, a huge number that doesn’t decrease).
The daily print newspapers’ market is thus characterised by two combining trends: The constant declining of advertising revenues (due to digital migration) and readership, that leads to a regular increase of the selling price per copy and downsizing of the newsrooms (through numerous layoffs and an increase in the recruiting of freelance journalists).
The turnover of press in France is declining year after year since its peak in 2007 – the year of the vibrant and competitive election for the Presidency of the Republic that boosted news media audience: €10.8bn. In 2016, this turnover reached €7.07bn: -35 percent in less than 10 years. This 2017 turnover is split in copy selling (€4.8bn, 68 percent, with a quite equal split between kiosk selling and subscription) and advertising revenues (commercial and classifieds: €2.2bn, 32 percent).
Not surprisingly the overall circulation of print press has been declining year after year, whereas digital subscriptions and PDF-version reading are booming: +6.2 percent for all digital devices and +53.1 percent in 2015-2016 for PDF. In 2016 kiosk sales of dailies reached 174 m copies with a turnover of €312m (-6.6 percent compared to 2015; -1.4 percent in 2015; -3.8 percent in 2014). Kiosk sales have been continually declining for three decades: from 46.6 percent in 1985 to 30.54 percent in 2016, compared to the overall subscription that switched from 17.51 percent in 1985 to 36.73 percent in 2016.
According to the ACPM, the official body that controls the circulation and audience of print press, the paid circulation (including digital subscriptions, in France and abroad) of the print national dailies shows the following numbers in 2017: Le Figaro (general news, right-of-centre-Liberal conservatism) sells 307,807 copies a day, Le Monde (general news, centre-Social Liberal) has an average circulation of 284,738 copies, L’Equipe (sports) is the 3rd daily with 234,931 copies, Les Echos (economics and financial news, right-of-centre) sells 128,376, Aujourd’hui en France (right-of-centre) has a circulation of 120,180 copies, La Croix (general news, right-of-centre catholic) sells 89,537, Libération (general news, left-Social Democrat) has a circulation of 75,275 copies, L’Humanité (general news, communist) sells 33,851 copies, L’Opinion (general news, right-Liberal) claims a daily circulation of 20,000 copies, and finally Présent (opinion news, far-right) has a very limited circulation with 2,500 copies (in 2011). In addition two free general news dailies operate nationwide: 20 Minutes (equally owned by two regional press groups, Rossel and SIPA-Ouest France) circulates 910,000 copies a day within the 11 biggest urban areas and CNews (former Direct Matin) circulates 895,000 daily copies within 10 of the biggest urban areas.
As for regional dailies, the anti-concentration law (see above) has never limited nor blocked the processes of concentration. Since 1944 nearly each of the 22 French metropolitan regions has been dominated by one single regional independent newspaper (with one edition dedicated to each county). For two decades this market has been driven by a huge ownership reconfiguration through mergers and acquisitions in favour of most profitable regional press groups: EBRA (owned by the bank Crédit Mutuel) covers the north-east of France, La Dépêche and Sud-Ouest share the South West market, Ouest-France rules the West region in competition with Le Télégramme de Brest – the West being the only region where competition exists, group La Voix (owned by the Belgian media holding, Rossel) dominates the North and Centre-France controls the centre of France.
On the contrary the market of magazine press is flourishing and vibrant – the most dynamic with the highest number of outlets in the world. In 2015, 3,358 magazine press outlets have been issued in France and represent 53 percent of the overall turnover of print press. In the second semester of 2016 and first semester of 2017, its circulation reached 1.4bn copies (-2.2 percent compared to 2015-2016). The turnover of kiosk sales in 2016 was €854m (-5 percent); the more dynamic segments are kids (+34.3 percent), family and health (+33.4 percent), and business/shopping (+19.1 percent).
This market is characterised by a highly concentrated ownership structure; most outlets belong to three substantial publishing groups: Lagardère, Prisma Presse and Mondadori. Lagardère Active – the media branch of the French international holding – is an historical media-industry actor that operates worldwide as well. It particularly covers four segments: general news (Paris Match, Journal du Dimanche), TV, women (Elle), and kids press. Prisma Presse is the French branch of the German group Gruner+Jahr that mainly covers four segments: popular women (Femme Actuelle, Prima), celebrity (Gala, Voici), business (Capital, l'Essentiel du Management), and TV press. Finally Mondadori France is a branch of the Italian media group held by Fininvest, the financial holding of Silvio Berlusconi that mainly operates in four segments: TV, women and fashion (Grazia, Biba, Modes et Travaux), celebrity (Closer), and motoring press.