'Paper of the future' runs out of time

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The Independent Online


The French daily Infomatin,conceived as a new sort of newspaper with appeal for the hard-pressed commuters of the television age, is to cease publication on Tuesday, one day short of its second anniversary. The final decision is to be taken at a board meeting today, but the director and majority shareholder, Andre Rousselet, is said to be intent on closure.

The small-format newspaper, with bright colour pictures and plentiful graphics, was a distinctive addition to the still largely black-and-white and pictureless French press. Neither up-market nor down-market, it aimed to give readers a succinct news review in an accessible form; its political stance was left of centre.

Although the newspaper had been making large losses, it had been expected to go into temporary receivership rather than close. Mr Rousselet, however, who rescued the paper soon after launch by taking the majority stake, was piqued earlier this week by the staff's refusal to accept a cut in holiday entitlement from eight weeks - the norm in the French press - to five. He was reported as saying: "I have always said that only one thing would make me give up: not having the support of my staff."

Staff yesterday insisted that they were not opposed to a rescue plan in principle "if the project is explained to us". But they conceded that the paper could not continue with the current losses - 60m francs (pounds 8m) in 1995 - and a circulation down from 360,000 at launch to an estimated 60,000.

The closure of Infomatin would mark the end of an idea that was hailed two years ago as the possible face of newspapers to come: smaller, leaner and cheaper. But many believe that the paper's problems derive less from its different format than from a wider crisis facing the newspaper industry.

The French press has experienced nothing like the economies of staff and costs seen in Britain over the past decade, and the price of newspapers (at Fr7 for a daily broadsheet despite government subsidies) remains high. Even the redoubtable Le Monde, one of few dailies to increase its circulation last year, had to cut staff for the second year running and increase its capital base in the face of sharply rising costs.

In the closing weeks of 1995 it became clear that not only Infomatin but two other papers, the evening France-Soir and the left-of-centre Liberation were also in serious trouble. It is feared Infomatin may not be the only title to close this year.