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The salient fact about the French press is that its financial health is precarious — although there are a few money-makers — and it would not be able to survive without subsidy from the state it so often opposes.

An outstanding phenomenon in the French newspaper world has been the shift in importance and vigor from the Parisian press to the regional press. Another has been the decay of the opinion press (papers more concerned with advancing their own point of view than with reporting news), which once was the hallmark of French journalism.

Today, at least 90% of the major French dailies can be called information papers (papers whose chief concern is reporting news). This change began in the 1930s, and by the beginning of World War II the division was about 60% opinion papers and 40% news journals. Since the war, the change has been accelerated.

Subsidies

France's press is subsidized in one way or another by an estimated sum of more than $55 million annually. Prices of newspapers are controlled by the government. They were fixed in 1963 at 30 centimes a copy, except for Le Monde and Paris Presse, which were permitted to sell at 40 centimes. The others were raised to that level on Aug. 1, 1967.

Subsidization takes several forms. For example, a journalist in France phones, cables, or telexes his story at half the ordinary rate, and newspapers are mailed to subscribers for only a fraction of the cost for other material of the same weight. If a reporter has to travel anywhere in France on a story, he pays half fare on French railways.

Sometimes the subsidy is direct. If a publisher desires to build a new printing plant, the government will pay up to 15% of its cost, and in the important budget item of paper cost it will pay the difference between the French price for newsprint and the world price, which is lower. The state also subsidizes overseas sales of French newspapers. It does not require publishers to pay a purchase tax, and it exempts them from the corporation tax on profits if the money is reinvested within five years. Working journalists get an automatic 30% deduction on their income taxes as an expense allowance.

Problems and Changes

In spite of all this help, the French press is in a chronic state of crisis. Well-organized, intransigent unions impede modernization, and the practices of some managements are equally obsolete. Other difficulties are the uncertainties of transportation, the fact that advertising is hard to get, and the fact that production costs are higher in France than in any other European country. Publishers cannot relieve their situation by buying television stations; the law forbids them to own any.

Efforts to solve these problems have caused mergers and the disappearance of papers in Paris, while the provincial press has become more healthy. Its health, however, is partly the result of mergers and of advertisement agreements.

Publications

Newspapers

The French press comprises about 15,000 titles (newspapers and magazines together), with a total circulation per issue of about 140 million. Its approximately 135 daily newspapers print about 12 million copies a day, a figure that has not fluctuated significantly since the mid-1950s.

In Paris, there are 11 French-language papers of general interest, 7 of them technically morning and 4 evening. The others are specialized journals — 2 are devoted to horseracing, 2 are economic and financial publications, and 1 is a sporting paper. The combined print order of these papers approaches 5 million, but the actual sales are nearer 4 million.

Between 1946 and 1961, about 100 dailies disappeared in France, but gains have exceeded these losses because of the growth of weeklies and of the provincial press in general, which accounts for more than half of the daily circulation. Before World War II almost two thirds of the circulation was concentrated in Paris.

France-Soir is the circulation leader, with 1.3 million. It prints six daily editions around the clock, and its circulation is the highest in France — 800,000 in the Paris region, 500,000 elsewhere. Le Monde is a serious quality paper, the most influential in France, read everywhere in Europe and considered one of the three or four "best" newspapers in the world. Its circulation is about 300,000.

The Paris press publishes more than 60 nondaily newspapers of general interest and over 8,800 periodicals, printing about 115 million copies. Foreign-language newspapers and periodicals appear in 19 languages, nearly all of them published in Paris, including the International Herald Tribune (now owned jointly by the former owners of the New York Herald Tribune and by the New York Times and the Washington Post).

Of the other Parisian papers, the most noteworthy is Le Figaro, traditional organ of the conservative and liberal middle classes, with a circulation of 525,000 and a distinguished past. In the provinces, the most influential papers are La voix du Nord, in Lille; Le Progrès, of Lyon; and Ouest-France, of Rennes. These are regional papers; the Rennes paper has nearly 50 different editions. Of the 95 dailies in the provinces, almost all are morning papers.

Magazines

It is not easy to separate the periodical field from the newspaper business in France because there are so many interlocking ownerships and because the line between some weekly newspapers and some of the magazines is not clear-cut. The leading magazine is Paris-Match, with a circulation of 1,360,000, a mass circulation magazine with gravure print and many pictures, tending toward scandal, sex, and sport. From a production standpoint, Réalités, a monthly luxury magazine of the arts, is one of the world's most beautiful magazines. Among the women's magazines, the fashion leader is Elle, with 740,000 circulation.

France has about 800 periodicals offering political and general features, 500 others that present general news, 2,000 technical publications, 200 for children and young people, 600 agricultural journals, 1,500 devoted to education and pedagogy, and 2,000 devoted to the legal, political, economic, and social sciences. Leading them all is the monthly Catholic magazine, L'écho des françaises, with a circulation of 1,760,000.

The French press, newspaper and periodical, is largely controlled by five groups. The largest is the Franpar-Hachette group, regarded as perhaps the most powerful publishing group in the world, and probably the largest as well.


Author: John Tebbel, New York University
Source: Encyclopedia Americana, © 2003 Grolier Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

News Services

La Croix   Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Boasting correspondents in 129 countries, AFP is one of the three largest news services in the world (along with its U.S. counterpart Associated Press and the British Reuters), transmitting some 3 million words daily.

Newspapers & Magazines

Courrier International
Weekly magazine (circulation 179,753) focusing on international current events, political conflicts, diplomatic relations.

La Croix
Daily family newspaper (circulation: 96,544) covering world news, the economy, religion & spirituality, parenting, culture and science.

Les Echos
Daily economic newspaper (circulation: 143,229) devoted to personal finance, stock markets, and enterprise.

Elle   Founded in 1945, Elle is the most prestigious and influential of the women's magazines, covering women's issues and fashion. (Weekly newsstand sales: 348,277; published in eight languages.)

L'Equipe
Daily sports news, founded in 1946, with a circulation of 324,246 on weekdays and over 400,000 on Monday.

L'Expansion
Weekly business magazine covering career opportunities, personal finance, French and European economic overviews (circulation 161,589).

L'Express
Weekly news magazine, format similar to Time and Newsweek (circulation 555,771).

Le Figaro
One of the leading national daily morning newspapers (circulation 360,185). Founded in 1825, the Parisian paper was named for Beaumarchais' Le Barbier de Séville. Its editorial line is conservative and has generally been supportive of the RPR and UMP parties. In 1975 the newspaper was bought by Robert Hersant.

France Dimanche
Weekly revue, founded in 1946, covering movie stars, pop singers and celebrities (circulation 584,182).

France Magazine
Authoritative coverage of French society, business, culture and travel in lavishly illustrated features. English language edition, published quarterly by the French-American Cultural Foundation, Washington, DC (circulation 38,000).

FrancePress
Headquartered in San Francisco, FrancePress has been publishing the Journal Français (monthly, in French) since 1978, and France Today (bi-monthly, in English) since 1985. Try out a free sample issue of either format!

L'Humanite
The daily newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF), featuring political commentary and employment listings (circulation 52,477). It was founded in 1904 by the Socialist Party leader Jean Jaurès. The paper is sustained by the annual Fête de L'Humanité, held in the working class suburbs of Paris.

Investir
Since the late '70s, economic press offerings have more than doubled. Investir is one of the major economic weeklies (circulation 107,509), in addition to Capital, Le Revenu Français, Mieux Vivre Votre Argent, and Valeurs Actuelles.

Liberation
One of the leading national daily newspapers (circulation 158,543). Affectionately known as Libé, the paper was founded in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July in Paris, in the wake of the protest movements of May 1968. It was the first French daily newspaper to have a website.

Le Monde
One of the leading national daily evening newspapers (circulation 407,086). Founded by Hubert Beuve-Méry, it first appeared on November 19, 1944. While frequently described in the past as a center-left newspaper, its editorial line today can be fairly considered as moderate or even center-right. The quality of reporting in Le Monde is generally considered to be high.

Le Nouvel Observateur
A weekly news magazine (circulation 541,656), featuring international politics, economic news, society & culture, science, multimedia, sports, book reviews, arts and nightlife.

le Parisien
This conservative daily newspaper (circulation 363,437) has established itself solidly among the national dailies.

Paris Match   The French enjoy the highest rate of magazine readership in the world (1,354 copies sold for every 1,000 inhabitants). Paris-Match is one of the major news weeklies (circulation 718,271).

Le Point
Weekly news magazine (circulation 367,741) featuring editorials & opinions, French and international current events, the arts, entertainment, science, gastronomy, and economic issues. Available in three different editions: business, education, international.

La Tribune
Daily newspaper covering the economy, stock markets, high-tech industry, Internet, and employment (circulation: 92,310). Subscribers can access archives online, dating back to 1995 (both paper and web-only subscriptions are available).

Event Calendars

L'Officiel des Spectacles
A weekly calendar magazine featuring listings of arts & cultural venues, film, nightlife, and shopping. Cost: 0.35 € (circulation 154,399).

Pariscope
Indispensable for the traveler and resident alike, this weekly calendar magazine features listings of arts & cultural venues, film, nightlife, and shopping. Cost: 0.40 € (circulation 103,914).

Zurban
Hachette Filipacchi's entry into the weekly calendar magazine genre is gaining ground on the competition, with a colorfully illustrated and well-orchestrated lay-out. Cost: 0.80 € (circulation 60,416).

Television & Cable Programming Schedules

Tele 7 Jours   Weekly television programming guide (circulation: 2,258,336). The other major TV guides are: Télé-Loisirs (1,996,338), Télé Star (1,791,677), and Télé Z (2,147,306).

Note: Circulation figures are for 2003, and were obtained from various sources, including the Association Pour le Contrôle de la Diffusion des Médias.

 
 

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