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French weekly magazines review 15 April 2018

__ DR

This week's review of the weeklies takes a look behind the scenes. Just how well are the magazines we talk about every Sunday actually doing?

According to Le Monde, not very well at all.

Sales are down and no one has yet found a way of making the internet pay.

Take L'Express, which has been around for 65 years.

The magazine is a real dinosaur, with barely 3,000 paid-up electronic subscribers. That compares with 24,500 for Le Point.

L'Express has thus, perhaps a tad illogically, decided to merge its print and internet editorial teams and offer a weekly which is in fact twice daily, with updates proposed to the paying public every morning and evening. If you can't survive as a magazine, disguise yourself as a newspaper. And take refuge on the worldwide web. It may work.

They certainly had to do something. L'Express has seen weekly sales plummet from 400,000 per week in 2014 to 290,000 last year. And advertising revenue is stuck at around 15 million euros annually, the agencies preferring to place their clients on Google or Facebook.

Part of the problem is that more and more people are reading the weeklies on their phones. Which is good news for L'Express, owned by the mobile communications giant, SFR. While paper sales have declined by 10 percent over the past year, the number of those reading the phone version has rocketed by 60 percent. Le Monde's analysis warns, however, that the trick of turning those numbers into real profits remains to be consolidated.

How do you make virtual readers pay real money?

There's a similar story at L'Obs, as we are now obliged to call the magazine formerly known as Le Nouvel Observateur - declining sales, stagnant advertising revenue, a desire to attract electronic readers and somehow get into their electronic wallets.

Management made a good start by sacking 40 journalists (sacking 40 managers might have made more sense, but there we go). That enabled the weekly to balance the books for the first time in a decade. Grand. Now the aim is to gather more real readers of the virtual edition. And get them to cough up cash for the privilege. A new internet version of the magazine is currently being knocked into shape and is to be revealed soon. How exciting is that?

Optimistic Etienne

Etienne Gernelle, the man who calls the shots at Le Point, has no time for those who whinge about the decline of the French news magazine.

Optimistic Etienne says you just have to avoid two mistakes: don't give the content away for free to internet readers and don't listen to those who say that the days of the paper edition are over.

That from a dude who claims to have sold an average of 70-80,000 magazines each week last year, 55,000 of them printed, the rest pixellated.

And Etienne Gernelle is totally opposed to the idea of giving away magazines to attract phone service users. That, he says, leaves the publishers in the position of pear sellers trying to fight the supermarket chains. Indeed.

Marianne, to complete the round up of Sunday's usual suspects, has sacked a few people, cut a few corners, and got sales to stabilise at around 140,000 copies.

What about content?

What is perhaps most striking about all of this is the absence of any reflection on the junk the various editorial teams actually offer on a weekly basis. Maybe the best way of attracting readers is to give them something worth reading? Instead of secrets, revelations and Vladimir Putin's laundry list. Or am I just being old-fashioned?

And the editors, optimistic of otherwise, might do well to reflect on the results of a survey carried out by the Guardian. A recent investigation by the London paper showed that there were whole months last year when not a single person of black, Asian, mixed or any other ethnic minority heritage featured on the cover of any of Britain's biggest-selling magazines.