Association of online publishers to lobby government in France


imageSeven online news publishers in France have united to defend their interests ahead of key government and parliament decisions. They have founded SPIIL, an association of the independent online press.

“We represent new forms of professional news media that are developing on the Internet. As everyone knows, news websites are struggling to find viable business models. Our aim is to obtain a legal framework that allows them to become profitable,” said Maurice Botbol, SPIIL’s chairman.

“The difference in VAT is a real problem for some news websites. The 2.1 percent rate would allow them to break even,” Botbol said.

Equal treatment

A recent bill creating a status for “online press services” has been welcomed by independent news websites. Thanks to the so-called Hadopi bill, websites could benefit from advantages only print papers have enjoyed so far. They include:

  • Exemption from local business tax;

  • Access to a special state fund to help newspapers expand online;

  • Other subsidies for the press.

Websites still don’t enjoy equal treatment with their print counterparts. Websites currently pay standard 19.6 percent value added tax on sales and subscriptions, while traditional newspapers pay 2.1 percent. A French MP, Patrice Martin-Lalande, has submitted a draft amendment to the next finance bill granting websites the 2.1 percent rate.

SPIIL wants the parliament to back Martin-Lalande.

“The difference in VAT is a real problem for some news websites. The 2.1 percent rate would allow them to break even,” Botbol said. He is also the head of Indigo Pulications, a business intelligence specialist with eight publications including five websites.

Moderating comments

The Hadopi bill establishes several conditions websites must meet to qualify as “online news services.” They require websites to offer “non-commercial news” and employ at least one journalist carrying a press card.
But one point still has to be determined: Should news websites be required to edit comments before or after publishing them? The government will decide in a decree expected at the end of October.

Laurent Mauriac, vice-chairman of the SPIIL and managing director of Internet pure player Rue89, said comments should be moderated post-publication.
“As opposed to the websites of traditional newspapers, we think that comments are important. They supplement articles. Publishing comments first makes debates much livelier,” he said.

Free access or paywall?

Aside from common interests and characteristics, SPIIL’s seven founding members run the gamut.

Rue89 claimed 1.5 million single users in June, just more than two years after it was founded. This is a big achievement., France’s most visited news website, got 6.7 million that month but has the large newsroom of a daily newspaper, Le Figaro.

Rue89 does not live off advertising revenue. The company also sells services like web design and training for journalists.

Some members of SPIIL have chosen to charge for the content they produce. Access to @rrêtsurimages, a media analysis specialist, costs 3 euro per month. The website claimed 40,000 subscribers in the first year, thanks in part to support from fans of the homonymous TV show, scrapped by France 5 in 2007. But the number has since dropped to 27,000. Founder Daniel Schneidermann says the site is barely breaking even.  While @rrêtsurimages joined SPIIL, he says he is still unsure weather he will apply for government grants as this could undermine the site’s independence.


Others have adopted a hybrid print-web model. Bakchich, a satirical news website, charges 50 euro a year for unlimited access and smaller amounts for individual articles.

Going against the flow, Bakchich launched a weekly print magazine in September. “We’re exploring, because there is no business model that works for news websites,” founder Xavier Monnier told Libération in an interview. Indigo Publications and Terra Eco, which provides news about sustainable development, also both publish in print and on the web.

Other members may join SPIIL after its first general meeting on 23 October. According to Laurent Mauriac, the association has received some 40 requests, many from specialised or local news websites. Mauriac and Botbol say they do not rule out that traditional newspapers with websites join in the future, as SPIIL could also defend their interests.

SPIIL’s founding members

Background:Founded in 2007 by former journalists of the left-leaning daily Libération. It has a sister website, Eco89
Team: 17 journalists (including Eco89)
Single users: 1.5 million (June, source: Nielsen NetRatings)

Business model: Currently based on advertising (2/3) and other services including web design, selling content and training journalists (1/3).
Turnover: 624,000 euros (2007-2008)

Founded in 2007 by Daniel Schneidermann, a former TV journalist. Schneidermann hosted a show analysing television, Arret sur images, on France 5. When the show was axed, Schneidermann launched the website, extending analysis to other media like the Internet
Team: 6 journalists + 3 contributors

Business model: Paywall for most contents (3 euros per month subscription)

Subscribers: 27,000
Single visitors: 300,000 (11 September - 11 October)
Turnover: 1m euros (2008)

Founded in 2006 by three 24-year old journalists. Bakchich, a satirical news website, started off as a pure player. But in September it launched a weekly print version, an unusual move aimed at creating revenue
Team: 15 staff journalists
Business model: Mixed model for website (50 euros per year subscription or 1 euro per article).
Revenue: 6,000 to 7,000 euro in “good” months from advertising; 6,000 to 7,000 euro from 2,000 subscribers; 15,000 euro selling content to other print newspapers

Indigo Publications
Founded in 1981 by journalist Maurice Botbol. The company provides business intelligence. It has eight publications including five websites, published both in French and in English
Team: More than 100 correspondents
Business model: No advertising, paywall (individual articles starting from 1.30 euro; newsletters and full access to websites for several hundred euro)
Turnover: Roughly 2.5m euro

Background:Founded in 2008 by journalist Edwy Plenel (formerly at Le Monde)

Team: 30 journalists

Business model: Paywall for all content (subscription 9 euro per month); also planning to launch a weekly print magazine


Founded by four journalists including former Le Monde director Jean-Marie Colombani and by scholar Jacques Attali. is a French version of US website (owned by the Washington Post group, which also has a 17 percent share in
Team: 8 journalists + contributors

Business model:
Advertising, no paywall

Terra Eco
Founded in 2004 as a news website focusing on the environment and sustainable development. It also launched a paper version, available in newsstands since March 2009.
Business model: mixed (some content is free, subscription for monthly print magazine or website for 3 euro per month)

Team: 10 journalists + some 70 correspondents

Note on sources: Information provided by publisher representatives and/or the websites, except for Bakchich (Libération interview).

Flickr image from user timothymorgan