PARIS –- The French are catching up quickly to Americans in terms of Internet use and online news consumption according to a study published last week by polling group CSA in conjunction with national French service provider Orange. Though seemingly lagging in web development and online news content, the French market is thriving, preferring the Internet over traditional forms of news like the press or radio.
According to National Institute of Economic Studies and Statistics, 64% of French households are equipped with internet, 90% of which is broadband. It should come as no surprise that French consumers are nearly as active as their American counterparts. Falling prices for at-home internet bundles and increasingly affordable 3G plans are allowing the French to browse at home, at work, in the subway – you name it. And with free public internet in major cities, including all parks and gardens in Paris, it only takes a smart phone or laptop to consume online content.
According to the study published this month, online news sources are far more popular than paper sources, with 76% of French news consumers consulting online portals like Google News and 70% going directly to online sources of traditional press like LeMonde.fr. These stats are nearly identical to American news consumers according to a US census report. The French poll also reports that 62% of consumers prefer online news sources to TV, radio, and print sources.
With such an active consumer population, American and English businesses are targeting the French market. Following last week’s partnership between the Huffington Post and French daily Le Monde, British citizen news site Blottr.com is unveiling its French site this week, hoping to insert local news groups in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. Also with the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, and the variety of French readers available, it’s clear that the French market is a lucrative frontier for new technology.
With so much focus on online sources, fewer French people are consulting traditional press outlets like newspapers. As major publications like France Soir convert to entirely online versions, future generations may only see newspapers in museums.
Laura El Feky, a French communications student at the Sorbonne, doesn’t subscribe to any periodicals, despite attractive student prices on certain daily newspapers and magazines. “If a free paper comes to me, I’ll read it, but to dig deeper I head online,” she said, affirming that she never pays for news.
Ben Dutraive, a communications coordinator and marketing assistant, also takes advantage of certain free publications. “I try to read on a daily basis Direct Matin or Metro, which are free newspapers,” he said. “It helps me pass the time every morning in the subway. They're quick to read or skim through and the info is really condensed, which I like.” But he also belongs to the small minority of French who use new technology and social networking for news.
Only 8% of French use Twitter compared to about 13% in the US for news sources. Still over half of the French use Facebook regularly to stay informed about events or people.
If you want to know the latest thing about whatever company you like, Twitter is the place,” Dutraive said. “It’s the best way to stay in touch with them.”
He also echoes nostalgia for classic forms of communications that the French adhere to, like writing and phone calls. “Nothing will ever replace the feeling of hearing a familiar voice on your phone or get a postcard in the mail from your old friend,” he said, but that remains to be seen.
Photo: Lindsey Tramuta