French press hits hard times and summer slump: Rumours of closures abound as sales fall and advertising sinks, reports Julian Nundy in Paris

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The Independent Online
LAST Saturday staff at Le Jour, France's newest daily newspaper, went on holiday. All of them. Three months into its existence, the editors who said the 16-page newspaper could survive with a minute circulation of 20,000 decided that the months of July and August were not worth bothering about.

Promising that Le Jour would be back on the news-stands in September, they said the summer months traditionally saw a fall of about a third in the Paris region, where the paper picked up most of its sales.

These are hard times for the French national press and rumours are constant that one or other of the main dailies is about to close. High on the list is L'Humanite, the Communist Party newspaper. With declining political fortunes and no more Moscow subsidies, the newspaper is struggling at about 60,000 sales a day. In April, L'Humanite closed its three regional editions.

Last week, European Newspapers Associated, grouping the Independent, Le Monde, El Pais of Madrid and La Repubblica of Rome, decided not to set a date for the launch of a new French morning newspaper which they had been planning, citing an unfavourable economic situation.

In an even worse plight than L'Humanite is the centre-right Le Quotidien de Paris where circulation is down to 30,000. When print unions went on strike in April to protest against the new conservative government's privatisation programme they made an exception for Le Quotidien de Paris. The unions said they could not further endanger the future of a newspaper where 'jobs are threatened in the short term'.

Shortly after, Alain Carignon, the new Gaullist Communications Minister, set up a government support fund and promised newspapers would have priority when it came to placing advertising for the forthcoming privatisation of 21 companies. Advertising revenues for the French press dropped by 17 per cent in 1991, adding to the problems of declining circulation.

First to use the government support fund, established in early May, was Le Quotidien de Paris. This enabled Philippe Tesson, its editor and founder, to find new partners to keep open a paper which he said he had expected to close that month.

Even at the stronger end of the market circulation remains tiny by British standards. The tabloid Le Parisien sold only 394,286 copies a day last year, a 10.79 rise over five years and a huge success story. Le Figaro, the best-selling quality newspaper, sold 379,000 copies daily.

The biggest slump has been at the popular France-Soir, Le Figaro's stable mate, which dropped 30.46 per cent over five years to 198,000. The loss- making Le Monde, however, gained 7.77 per cent to reach 312,429. Liberation added 9 per cent in the same period to sell 160,077.

At Le Jour the editor, Jean-Christophe Nothias, said his paper was selling between 10,000 and 15,000 before it took its summer break.

Even Le Jour's own best sales figure falls well below the newspaper's declared break-even point. With journalists earning 5,000 francs a month ( pounds 7,000 annually), a 25 per cent salary increase promised for the autumn may be difficult to find.