The view from here - France - Newspapers for les enfants beat print woes
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin the story of a group of children's newspapers that stands out as a rare success story for the French press.
Francois Dufour, a 50-year-old bundle of energy and enterprise, is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of three dailies aimed at readers aged seven to 17. He specialises in bold headlines, eye-catching illustration and lots of reader involvement, from film and book reviews to guest stints in the editor's chair.
And the recipe works. Aided by government-subsidised postal rates for dailies, the newspapers - Le Petit Quotidien (for children aged seven to 10), Mon Quotidien (10-14) and L'Actu (14-17) - have a combined circulation of 150,000. All sales are by subscription and readership has been steady for six years.
Profits are modest - 200,000-300,000 euros (up to #163;251,000) a year - but Mr Dufour (pictured, below) points out that all other French national dailies, with the exception of the sports newspaper L'Equipe, make losses. In a troubled market, L'Actu and its stablemates occupy a haven of commercial tranquillity.
Schools also recognise the newspapers' value as classroom aids. Extra copies are ordered when special editions devote extensive coverage to major news events or international days dedicated to women or fighting racism.
"These are useful educational tools and can form part of school projects," said Daniel Labaquere, a primary school teacher and official of the teaching union SNUipp. "But just as there is a crisis in the press, there is a crisis in reading. Newspapers written in clear, straightforward language and presented so the reader finds them easy to follow help children understand the importance of being informed of the news."
The success has even prompted international expansion. An Arabic version of Le Petit Quotidien was launched under licence in Qatar in November, with 10,000 copies delivered five days a week to schools in and around the capital, Doha. A weekly digest of Mon Quotidien also appears in a leading Swiss newspaper.
Content in the first Qatar editions ranged from news of a football friendly between Brazil and Argentina in Doha to a story about tortoises. "Pretty much the same editorial line applies as with our French editions," Mr Dufour said. "We survey them all the time and while there is plenty of serious material - the Fukushima nuclear disaster or the build-up of North African immigrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa - we're happy to put an animal story on page one."
A glance at 2011 issues of the French titles bears witness to his taste for detailed, graphic treatment of subjects as diverse as Tutankhamun, text messaging and the Occupy movement (known in French as the indignes).
A third of readers - typically parents who buy no mainstream newspapers - pay extra for a weekly supplement in English. So is there scope for the idea to cross the Channel and reach a young British readership?
Sixteen years after launching Mon Quotidien and confounding sceptics, Mr Dufour feels a market exists in the UK, too. He has pitched the idea, but remains unsure whether industry figures will give him the backing he needs.