France-Soir: death of a newspaper
Amid all the recent excitement about Marks & Spencer reopening in Paris - on the chic Champs Elysées, no less - I feel somewhat less attention has been paid to events happening on the floors above M&S.
Indeed, 100, avenue des Champs Elysées is also home to France-Soir, the closest thing France has to a tabloid newspaper. Or rather had, since France-Soir printed its final edition on Tuesday. Needless to say, this had nothing to do with being implicated in a massive phone-hacking scandal. The daily was simply losing too much money and its owner, a young Franco-Russian businessman named Alexander Pugachyov, decided to throw in the towel and only keep its website. Result: not only is the paper no more, but 89 staff out of 127 have now lost their jobs.
France-Soir was founded in 1944 after the Liberation of France. Its glory days were in the 1950s and 1960s, when it sold over 1 million copies per day under its highly respected boss and founder Pierre Lazareff. The paper's finest hour came in November 1970, when it sold 2 million copies announcing the death of Charles de Gaulle. France-Soir was revamped as a tabloid in 2006 and even hired a British press photographer, Jason Fraser, to help it make the change.
The official announcement of the paper’s imminent demise was only made in October, but its circulation had been declining for years. Pugachyov failed to boost France-Soir’s sales to 100,000 copies per day as hoped, despite investing considerable sums since he bought the paper in 2009. According to French news agency AFP, recent circulation was only a disappointing 30,000 copies per day.
One of many placards outside France-Soir's offices in Paris. The poster reads "France-Soir must live! Two days until the death of the paper". Photo: Caroline Clarkson.
In a recent TV interview, the French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, appeared to accept the paper’s fate while expressing his sympathy for its staff. The nephew of the late president François Mitterrand said it was “a bit complicated to ask Mr Pugachyov, who has already put 70 million euros into France-Soir, to plough in more money”.
Although the demise of the paper does seem to have been inevitable, particularly given the competition from online news sources, it is still sad. Its fate has generated relatively little press coverage, with the notable exception of left-wing daily Libération. It is also worth noting that the newspaper’s death comes less than five months before the French presidential elections - unfortunate timing to say the least.
Talking of the French elections, France-Soir’s 26-year-old millionaire owner has already decided whom he will vote for. Asked about his intentions during a TV interview, Pugachyov announced that he would be casting his ballot for far-right leader Marine Le Pen - much to the astonishment of the journalist sitting opposite him, and to the disgust of his staff.