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Media : Publishers Reaching Out to Nouveaux Readers : A small Paris paper packed with grafics and short articles is a hit with yuppies.

January 25, 1994|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IVRY-sur-SEINE, France — As with so many good ideas in France, this one was born over dinner. Four friends, all collectors of first-edition newspapers, asked each other: What type of newspaper would they most like to read?

Well, they concluded, it would have to be a paper with news . No commentary. No political slant. Only a little advertising. And lots of short articles and colorful graphics.

In other words, a newspaper like no other in France.

That dream paper, InfoMatin, is on the streets now, its 24 pages more colorful, its size smaller and its price half that of nearly every other daily on the crowded news racks. And, in just a matter of days, it has become one of the country's better-selling dailies, shaking some of the long-accepted conventions of French newspapering.

"We're trying to make ourselves very different from other papers," said Geraldine Sartin, 29, one of InfoMatin's 30 reporters. "We give the news, explain what it means and that's it. No commentary.

"Shorter sentences, shorter stories, but not shorter ideas," she added. "What's wrong with that?"

Nothing at all, apparently. The paper, whose name means Morning News, debuted on Jan. 10, with national sales of 345,000 and the biggest circulation of any daily in Paris. Since then, sales have leveled off at about 195,000--nearly twice what it needs, the paper's officials say, to make a profit.

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French newspapers have long been famous--some say notorious--for serving their news salted heavily with opinion, a repast that French readers have come to accept.

The leading national morning paper, Le Figaro, with daily sales of 380,000, has an unabashed fondness for the conservative prime minister. Balancing Le Figaro on the newsstands is the left-leaning tabloid Liberation, with about half the circulation.

But the founders of InfoMatin, which is financially supported by the venerable intellectual French daily Le Monde, contend that the French press has lost touch with its readers. And the figures suggest they may have a point.

Newspaper circulation has been in decline for some time. More and more people get their news from radio and television. Only one in 10 people buys a newspaper today, according to recent studies. Readership has fallen even among the most highly educated people, less than a quarter of whom now read a newspaper.

It was for those non-readers, most of them young urban professionals, that InfoMatin was created.

"Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to publish this kind of paper," said Marc Jezegabel, InfoMatin's 37-year-old editor in chief. "But now we are meeting the expectations of the younger readers. They want something with no political color."

Other newspaper editors and publishers, facing falling circulation and advertising revenues, are watching InfoMatin's gamble warily.

Of more than a dozen daily newspapers in Paris today, the youngest is Liberation, which was founded 21 years ago. And the country's history is littered with newspaper failures.

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One reason for competitors' concern is InfoMatin's price. The paper is selling for 3 francs, about 50 U.S. cents, less than the price of un cafe . Liberation and Le Figaro each cost twice that much. Le Parisien, a popular, working-class tabloid, recently launched a 60-cent national version called Aujourd'hui (Today).

"InfoMatin is very professional, and it does what it does perfectly," said the head of another Paris daily, who asked not to be named. "But I think their concept is completely mad."

"People buy a newspaper to get more than they get through TV or radio," the newspaperman added. "In that paper, you don't get much more. It won't last."

Alain Schott, 33, one of the co-founders, said it's probably too early to claim that InfoMatin is a success. But the sales figures "certainly are a big victory for the daily press," he said. "We have shown there is still a curiosity out there for the press. The press is not dead."

Indeed, total newspaper purchases in Paris have soared, by nearly 50%, since InfoMatin's debut. And the other major newspapers appear to be holding their readers in the face of InfoMatin's challenge.

"We are filling a void that was created by the other papers," said Alain Carlier, another of the founders and now president of the company that publishes InfoMatin. "Those papers are unattractive, their stories are too long, they don't have practical information and they're too expensive."

"We don't think we have any competition," Carlier added. "We are creating a new market."

One reason for the paper's success may be its marketing campaign, the largest ever undertaken to launch a new newspaper. Across France, InfoMatin occupies 117,000 billboards--about twice the number used in the typical launch of a new car line.

The paper's slogans, if not necessarily the newspaper, have been read by nearly every person in France. The most popular is "Toute l'Info, Rien que l'Info." All the News, Nothing but the News.

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