France

French Press: Good Coffee, Bad Policy

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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.

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  1. yes, most 18 year old people read the newspaper daily! I do, but i’m 30 and it comes to my office. i would never pay for it myself when the same info is free online

  2. Wow, I’ll never criticize periodical distribution in the US again. Newsstands can’t choose what to carry? And the head of the distribution company says, in January, that “by the end of the year the assortment, the number of copies will stick to vendors’ demands”?? Ah, bureaucracy! If only our economy were more like what those advanced folks have in Europe!

  3. Sarkozy may regret giving all the 18 year olds something to start fires with. I hear they like to protest over there.

  4. “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.

    It doesn’t take long for trust in a free market in any particular thing to fall down the memory hole, does it?

  5. “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.

    Like the French language?

  6. Professor: And this is my Universal Translator. Unfortunately, so far it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.

    Cubert: Hello.

    Universal Translator: Bonjour!

    Professor: Crazy gibberish!

  7. We also need to fsupply 18 year olds with free season tickets to the symphony and the opera, to get them into the classical-music-listening habit.

    Clearly a role for our new Culture Czar.

  8. What is it with politicians? I understand it’s a self-selected group, but I’m really at a complete loss to explain the need of such a large group to people to dictate every little facet of other people’s lives. What the fuck are they afraid will happen if the guy running the newsstand chooses which newspapers and magazines to sell?

  9. When are we going to demand our government get out of Nato and stop subsidizing the kind of nonsense that is coming out of France, Germany, Holland, Britain etc?

  10. Won’t somebody think of the trees???

  11. I hear they like to protest over there.

    Or they really hate Citro?nsl

  12. “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.

    *eyebrows raised, way, way up*

  13. I bet those French commies are more objective newsmen then we’ve had here lately.

  14. What the fuck are they afraid will happen if the guy running the newsstand chooses which newspapers and magazines to sell?

    It might … um … err…

    You know, I tried hard to come up with some almost reasonable sounding lefty logic for that, and I’m still at a loss.

    It’s a state sanctioned distributor making the decisions. If it was the US, I might think “Porn!” but this is France, so preventing porn distribution can’t be the reason.

  15. He should nationalize the papers just to see if the commies burst into flames from the irony.

  16. 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.

    I wish I had enough money to buy every 18-year-old in France a cute, little pee-filled puppy.

  17. I wouldn’t mind a free newspaper. I am 18 and steal my school’s coppies of the NYT. For some reason none of the other students complain.

  18. “You know, I tried hard to come up with some almost reasonable sounding lefty logic for that, and I’m still at a loss.”

    Easy. Because everyone deserves a forum to spout their meaningless tripe. Having a spot on the newsstand that otherwise would be occupied by Vogue would be UNFAIR!!! Waaah.

  19. “Nick | February 2, 2009, 4:25pm | #

    Sarkozy may regret giving all the 18 year olds something to start fires with. I hear they like to protest over there.”

    Nick- LOL!

  20. “Newspaper of their choice?” Is The Onion on the list?

  21. “He should nationalize the papers just to see if the commies burst into flames from the irony.”

    Well, when he last proposed nationalizing some banks, the only ones who protested (besides the libertarians, but then, we’re invisible and officially do not exist at all here) were… the Communists. And it did not inflict cranial explosions on them, then, so I do not know what could.

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