Seeking young readers, French government to dole out free newspaper subscriptions

Despite the overwhelmingly undeniable shift to new media outlets — news aggregators like Huffington Post, Twitter, blogs — offering free newspaper subscriptions might be enough to entice young readers back to print. At least in France.

The French government announced recently it has decided to give away one-day-a-week subscriptions free of charge starting next month to every 18- to 24-year old in the country in an effort to promote “newspaper reading and civic participation.” Publishers will provide their papers for free while the government pays for their distribution.

But a study unveiled at the World Young Reader Conference, which occurred in Prague last week, revealed that many young readers are not interested in traditional news content, even online. Instead, they want stories to be presented in the “simplest, most visually enticing manner,” with bold headlines and snappy synopses. How, then, do these French newspapers expect to generate prolonged interest?

But there is some hope for the government’s plan: a spokeswoman for Ouest France, the country’s largest general interest newspaper, said at the same conference the number of regular readers in the target demographic had increased by 22,000 in three years, with 12 percent re-subscribing after their own free-subscription promotion ended.

Then again, the French press is among the least profitable print industries in Europe, so any increase in subscriptions as a result of the government incentive could be billed as a success if it means some kind of fête. Especially since this year is supposed to have a particularly strong Beaujolais Nouveau.

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