Parisian kiosquiers blockade newspaper depots

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Newsagents made the news yesterday by blocking the news, banning distribution of national newspapers in Paris until early afternoon.

Newsagents made the news yesterday by blocking the news, banning distribution of national newspapers in Paris until early afternoon.

The kiosquiers , who run the news kiosks that help characterise the street furniture of Paris, were protesting against low incomes, falling newspaper sales and an increasing burden of pornography and other low-selling magazines.

Most of the kiosquiers went on strike for a day last month. One hundred of the more militant ones barricaded four newspaper and magazine distribution depots early yesterday, preventing the dailies, their own lifeblood, from reaching the streets until after lunch.

The kiosquiers are demanding a bigger share of the cover-price of newspapers, 25 per cent instead of their present 18 per cent, the lowest in Europe. They also want more control over what kind of magazines, and magazine offers, they are forced to stock in their cramped cabins.

Finally, they say their precarious incomes are being undermined by a steady fall in the circulation of some national newspapers since two daily freesheets began in Paris two years ago. Behind the dispute lies a cat's cradle of bureaucracy, paternalism and suspicions that the big battalions in the French publishing world are trying to drive independent, newsagents out of business.

Although they are self-employed - and hammered by the French tax and social security system - the kiosquiers rent their cabins from Paris and have to accept, and pay for in advance, newspapers and magazines allocated by the near-monopoly distributor, the Nouvelles Messageries de la Presse Parisienne (NMPP).

The NMPP is 51 per cent owned by co-operatives representing the main national press and magazine groups, and 49 per cent is owned by the book publisher Hachette, the world's largest magazine and publisher ( Elle , Paris Match etc). The kiosquiers are furious that the flourishing chain of Relay newsagent shops, found in every French airport, station, and motorway station, gets a much bigger share, 30 per cent, of the cover price. The Relay chain is also owned by Hachette.

NMPP says higher commission is justified by high rents for newsagents in airports and railway stations. The kiosquiers say they are being crushed under the weight of new magazine titles. More than half of the magazines and newspapers in Paris kiosks are never sold but the kiosquiers have to pay for them in advance.

Paris, increasingly alarmed by the disappearance of the news cabins, has agreed to subsidise the hardest-hit kiosquiers . There were 420 kiosks in the early 1990s. There are now 372, of which only 296 remain open.

Maurice, a kiosquier in the 16th arrondissement, said: "I am 70 and I am in my kiosk from five every morning. I have had no holiday for 17 years. I have practically nothing to retire on. It's a scandal. We are the pawns of the NMPP."