French Press: Good Coffee, Bad Policy


French president Nicolas Sarkozy has noticed that his country's newspapers aren't doing so well lately, so he's offering them un bailout.

But in addition to offering more standard forms of support, Sarkozy also set this scheme in motion: Every 18-year-old in the country will get a one-year subscription to a dead tree newspaper of their choice, to encourage the newspaper habit.

Lack of teenybopper readers is the least of the French newspaper industry's problem, however. As Matt Welch has noted, actual Communist trade unions have a choke-hold on the industry, thereby blocking home delivery, most Sunday newspapers, and all manner of decision-making about distribution and production. How did they get such power?:

After World War II, there was a major concern both in Paris and Washington that the Communist Party, which had been very active in the Resistance, would gain a foothold in post-war France the way it was doing throughout Central Europe (where democratic traditions were weaker, and the Soviet Union exercised parental control). So the French government was anxious to offer generous concessions to the commie trade union CGT (which, to be fair, decoupled from the Communist Party in…um, 1995), in return for not crippling the country with strikes and fomenting revolutionary unrest. So CGT got the newspapers.

Magazine vendors also lack decision making power about their own stock, though they don't labor under communist oppression. A state-sanctioned/supported distributor simply delivers its own mix of weeklies, monthlies, and randomness:

"So why do I have to have Tattoo magazine and three magazines on archaeology here?" [kiosk owner Bernadette Lefevre, who sells to a neighborhood that includes Chanel's nearby head office] said. "I need more Les Echos, Vogue, Paris Match and the International Herald Tribune for my customers."

A great system for start-up or special interest magazines, less thrilling for the Chanel employee who can't get her hands on this month's Vogue.

Here's Sarkozy:

"I don't understand how anyone could doubt the legitimacy of the state in this process," he said, adding that without a good business plan, the free, independent press would disappear.