The circulation of free newspapers in Europe tends to go down in almost every market. But not in France.
It has been almost stable with a total of 2.5 million copies a day since 2007, even after the only evening paper, Direct Soir, closed down in 2010.
But this may very well change in the next few months. In Januari both Metronews and 20 Minutes did not distribute the papers on five days because of a shortage of paid ads. The advertising market in France still looks very bleak. In 2014 all three titles decided to talk about a merger – or a sale of 20 Minutes. None of the three papers makes a profit now, and with all all them competing for the same advertisers, none of them will in the following years.
Metro entered the French market in February 2002 in Paris and Marseille; it expanded to Lyon, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Strasbourg and Languedoc. In 2003 commercial broadcaster TF1 acquired a 34.3% stake. In 2011 it took complete control of Metro, now called Metronews. Of the 14 editions 11 remain.
20 Minutes (Schibsted, Sofiouest/SPIR) was introduced first in Paris and Marseille; later in Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Rennes, Metz and Nancy. Of the 16 editions 13 remain.
The introduction of free papers in Paris in 2002 was met with great resistance by communist trade union CGT and led to a newspaper war; hawkers and truck drivers were attacked while papers were destroyed. Also in Marseille the union disturbed distribution, a police escort was needed to get the papers from the Avignon printing plant to Marseilles. Paid papers attacked the new papers in their editorials. Peace evolved after negotiations between Metro France, 20 Minutes France and the trade unions. The papers would be partly printed on CGT-controlled presses (under union-controlled conditions).
Hachette Filipacchi Médias (La Provence) countered Metro in Marseille with Marseilleplus in February 2002. Other local publishers, organized in La Presse Quotidien Regional (PQR) followed with Lilleplus, Lyonplus, Toulonplus and Bordeaux7 in 2004 and Montpellier Plus in 2005.
In 2007 the 3rd Paris free morning paper launched. MatinPlus, owned by the Bolloré group (70%) and Le Monde (30%). MatinPlus changed its name to DirectMatin in 2008. In the following years BretangePlus (later: Direct Nantes), Direct Nice and Direct Toulouse. The papers operate now jointly with the ‘Plus’ free papers in Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille, Lyon and Montpellier. There are 11 editions new, there were 14 some years ago.
French commercial TV-owner Vincent Bolleré started evening paper Direct Soir in 2006 in Paris and 15 local markets. In closed in 2010.