France’s latest social network reveals just how much trouble print media is in today

Aug 13, 2013
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stack of newspapers

The past few years have been quite rough for print media around the world. Traditional print newspapers like New York Times have become the exception to the rule in their successful transfer to digital (even though it’s still losing revenue each year), while Newsweek has stopped publishing print altogether. France has had its own set of problems: Le Monde has been bought out by tech billionaire (and free media enthusiast) Xavier Niel, and the monopolistic distribution company has been almost purposefully screwing over newspaper kiosks and publishers alike.

To top this all off, Google recently settled with the French government and media companies saying that, instead of paying royalties to media companies for using summaries in Google News, Google will provide media companies with a 60 Million euro fund dedicated to helping them go digital.

So that’s the landscape of French print media today

Troc de Presse seeks 'ambassadors,' asking them to print out this sign to share with neighbors.
Troc de Presse seeks ‘ambassadors,’ asking them to print out this sign to share with neighbors.

Given all that, it’s clear that digital is the future. Less overhead – practically 0 distribution costs – and the added benefit that you can be where people’s eyes are (people spend more time looking at screens than paper).

But here in France, we don’t let things like facts, trends, figures & a government-approved plan stop things like Troc de Presse (literally, “magazine swap meet”) from coming into our lives.

In short, Troc de Presse, which, go figure, has been getting great press in Le Monde & l’Express, among others, is a market place where individuals can trade their newspapers & magazines with their neighbors. In theory, if you get Le Monde and your neighbor gets Le Figaro, why not switch & share.

I went through the sign-up process: all the goodies from a not-protected password to a confirmation link that took me to a 404 page. After confirming my address and adding in a newspaper I’m not subscribed to, I finally got to see what my neighbors have to offer, and stumbled on the most obvious problem: no one around me uses the service. Most likely because no one around me subscribes to newspapers – or if they do, they get it on their computer/tablet/mobile phone.

When your success means your failure…

I read somewhere that VCs rarely invest in bridging technologies – technologies whose sole purpose is to facilitate the transition from, say, print to digital, or desktop to tablet – because they are entering a market where their success ultimately means their demise. Of course, there are exceptions: Amazon delivered print books in order to get their hands in text media, and then jumped to where the puck was going launching the Kindle; however, in the case of Troc De Presse, they are creating a social network for something that is actively disappearing, and they are encouraging people to purchase it less. I’d love to see what their five-year plan is – even better, I’m sure print media companies would be curious, too, as it might inspire them.