France’s Newpapers Team Up On Paid-Kiosk Initiative

Eight of France’s leading newspapers publishers and Orange have teamed to form a consortium aiming to jointly monetise electronic platforms (announcement).

Their so-called Economic Interest Group (GIE) comprises Le Figaro, Libération and Le Parisien; sports daily L’Équipe; business paper Les Échos; and journals L’Express, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Point magazines.

The aim is creating a cross-platform “kiosk” initiative, e-Presse Premium, that will let the publishers set their own subscription or micropayment prices and develop closer relationships with their readers, reports.

The involvement of Orange – which plays a major part in French life, has considerable media ambitions and already operates a news aggregator called Actu 24/24 – means the inclusion of the papers’ content in the telco’s news search engine, plus access to their digital editions through its Read&Go e-reader store. Though says: “This is an interim solution because the e-Presse Premium aims to create its own platform.”

Reports say the group wants to reduce the share members must give to e-reader distributors from the 30 percent Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) takes to just 10 or 15 percent. “The idea is to have a system as simple as on iTunes or Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). We want to create ‘one click shopping’ for the press,” says Frédéric Filoux, 20 Minutes’ former managing editor and an expert blogger at MondayNote, who has been named CEO of the group.

Some of the group members have recently launched their own paid electronic initiativesLe Figaro here, L’Express here. They say they will bring their individual user accounts systems in to the pooled initiatives, allowing a subscriber to any of the individual sites to access another.

Customer fee rates are unclear. Although this kind of collaboration may raise antitrust eyebrows in some countries, France’s newspaper market is in such poor health that it has been getting many encouragements from president Sarkozy in the last couple of years, including the government giving away 210,000 one-copy-per-week newspaper subscriptions to citizens around the country.

The members claim 16 million deduplicated unique monthly visitors, about 85 percent of the total, though a notable absentee is the high-brow Le Monde. Filoux reckons that paper has not yet joined because the development came during its recent change of ownership.

Filoux tells L’Expansion the consortium’s budget will be modest: “The software building blocks already exist, and publishers are already working with providers effective, so we’ll have economies of scale. We do not intend to reinvent the wheel.”

France’s news industry is amongst the least profitable in Europe, crippled by low readership and an inability to reinvent for the digital age because of strong unions. Last year, the government announced a €600 ($796.8/£508.32) million bailout that included the subscription offer.