Newspaper stand in Paris
10 April 2019

Press distribution: a new reform presented during the Council of Ministers

The main aim of the press distribution reform is to open up the press sector to new players from 2023 and to adapt the rules of press distribution to the present context. A focus on what will change.
In France, the single-issue press distribution system is regulated by the law of 2 April 1947, known as the "Bichet" law. This law, which was adopted after the Second World War, guaranteed that all general newspapers could be available throughout the country, thereby providing a pluralist press accessible to all.

However, the difficulties encountered by this distribution system and its first operator, Presstaliss, have shown that its framework is no longer suited to the present context, which has changed radically with developments in digital technology as well as new practices among readers. In this new context, the current legal framework makes the whole system rigid and sometimes places publishers, both customers and majority shareholders of companies which distribute the press, in a conflict of interest situation.

To remedy this situation, this bill sets out two objectives.

Modernise the rules applicable to single-issue press distribution

The Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, has stated: this bill aims to "modernise the legislative environment without breaking the key elements which make the press distribution system successful". This bill is expected to pass before the Senate on "22 or 23 May", for implementation in early 2020.

Opening up the sector to new players

This reform was initiated by the former Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen, during a time of serious crisis for the distributor Presstaliss, which was then going through a major restructuring after yet another rescue plan.

The press distribution sector in France is now split between the Presstaliss group and Messageries Lyonnaises de Presse (MLP). However, with this new reform, the sector could be opened up to new players from 1 January 2023. This 2023 deadline has been selected to allow Presstaliss time to recover.

Reaffirming the democratic principles of the Bichet law: freedom of dissemination and impartial distribution

Cooperative status will remain mandatory for these new players, their titles will still be distributed in a grouped way, but newspaper publishers will no longer have to be shareholders, which will open up the market. Franck Riester has given assurance that the criteria for new entrants will be "strict" to ensure coverage of the country is "broad and balanced". For titles that run their own distribution, as most regional daily newspapers do today, they will of course still be able to do that.

Unifying and strengthening sector regulation

On the regulatory side, it is the E-communication and Postal Regulation Authority (ARCEP), an independent authority whose responsibilities will be extended, which will oversee the sector, including the digital sector, in place of the two current bodies: the High Council of Press Distributors (CSMP) and the Press Distribution Regulation Authority (ARDP). As a result, ARCEP will decide in cases where interprofessional negotiations fail and will thus give approval to new players (publishers, cooperatives, distribution companies etc.).

Preserve the free and impartial dissemination of the written press throughout the country

Giving newsagents more control

Newsagents will be able to manage their supply and selection of titles more freely, with an obligation to offer political and general news press titles - about 45. Where other titles are concerned, however, some flexibility could be arranged with the sector. In the Paris region, experiments have shown that with 10% fewer titles, newsstand revenues increased by 10% through the promotion of titles. Newsagents will thus have more control over the types of publication they receive in order to minimise unsold copies.

The reform also introduces the possibility of opening points of sale in supermarkets and specialist shops, with the agreement of the sector, in order to preserve press distribution throughout the country and to protect the points of sale network.

Taking the digital sector into account

The bill also gives publishers of general news titles a right of access to digital newsstands and imposes transparency obligations on online news aggregators (such as MSN and Yahoo) regarding the choice of news content they "highlight". Digital newsstands will therefore be subject to the same obligations, they will be able to distribute all political and general news press titles that so wish, and news aggregators will have to be transparent about the choice of titles highlighted by their algorithms.