Print press not dead

This is an English translation of a post written in French. Original post with links here.

The news got plenty of coverage in the press yesterday but not much commentary online so far. Maybe it’s not to every blogger’s liking: the Audipresse 2007 survey, which measures the audience of the printed press, shows that it fared better in 2007. Regardless of what people have been saying – including here.

The audience of every French daily has increased, save La Croix (catholic) and L’Equipe (sports). Libération grew most: 10%. Free paper 20 Minutes now has France’s highest readership: 2.5 million. L’Equipe, Le Monde, Le Parisien – Aujourd’hui, Métro and 20 Minutes all have audiences in excess of 2 million people.

Most magazines also achieved an increase in audience. Some of the best performances were by Challenges (up 10%), Marianne (16%), Public (11%), Cosmopolitan (15%), Management (20%) and Studio (16%). Both news and business magazines did well, increasing their readership by 6.5% and 5.6% respectively.

This improvement, averaging 1.9% for dailies and 1.2% for magazines, follows a long decline since 2000, the best year for the printed press. No such figures have been recorded in the past ten years, the Audipresse survey shows. The chart below shows the change in total paid consumer press circulation between 1996 and 2006, measured by the OJD.

Change over 10 years
Paid circulation in France
1996 = 100

Note: The Audipresse survey measures the audience (number of readers), while OJD measures circulation (sales and free distribution).

But how is this possible when we keep hearing about the revolution in the media landscape, the switch to online media consumption, etc.?

The comments published since yesterday do not offer much in the way of an explanation. There is of course the increased interest due to the presidential elections, which made 2007 an exceptional year. But that would not explain the improvement in some press categories that do not deal with political news. Nor can it fully explain the increased audience in the second half of the year, after the elections.

Some read into it the result of smart editorial policies that use the online versions of newspapers and magazines not so much to steal readers from the printed counterpart as to draw attention to it. Le Figaro wrote: “Contrary to the preconceived notion, the Internet does not hurt the printed press. Web addicts are the most avid readers of magazines. Those who are connected every day read 16% more than average.

A new debate is open: is this a conjecture or a trend? Just a step on the printed press’ ladder down to oblivion? Or the beginning of the rebound? Does the Internet ring the death toll of other media or does it stimulate a broader appetite for information?

We sure won’t answer that one today. On the one hand, I’m sure the readership of printed media will not drop below a given threshold – and we have “predicted” here the return of journalism.

But I’m a bit doubtful about the theory that the Internet strengthens interest in information in general and therefore in the printed press. It may be so. But my intuition is that the sum of time spent on the Internet and reading periodicals is not extensible. The part of conjecture in the Audipresse figures deserves to be properly assessed.

We look forward to the publication of the OJD report for 2007 and the exact circulation figures for each periodical. A preview on the OJD website seems to confirm overall the trend announced by Audipresse: many circulation figures for 2007 are up. But we still need the full report to understand the change for each category of press.

A few observations, in no particular order:
• This survey also reveals a generally stable level of trust in the media.
• According to TNS Media Intelligence, advertising is matching the trend in audience (up 2.3%)
• The printed media remains the mass media, unsurprisingly. The daily papers have a penetration rate of 46% and magazines 59%.

• We discussed media on the move during the debate at Six35 on the future of the media. The table below, also from the Audipresse EPIQ survey, shows that the free papers are a favourite during travel time. Could that explain its good performance (audience up 6.6%)?

« Places for reading
The daily press is mostly read at home, but also at work. Free papers are mostly read during transportation, but also at home and work. »

Out of 100 readers monitored

• Periodicals’ financial difficulties remain acute.
• Finally, among the survey’s takeaways, comparing the audience and the circulation shows how many people read the same copy. A quick check in an Excel spreadsheet reveals that the rate is 3 to 3.5 for free papers, 4.5 for Les Echos and La Tribune. While each copy of Le Monde attracts 5.7 readers, Le Figaro only gets passed around among 3.5 people. So even though Le Figaro’s circulation beats Le Monde’s, the latter’s audience is almost twice as high (2 million vs. 1.2 million).

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