EU newspapers record worst-ever drop in ad revenue

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Advertising revenue is in free-fall at European newspapers, which have seen a sharp decrease in their advertising income in the last two months: the worst in the industry’s history. Against this backdrop, publishers are asking the EU to abstain from changing copyright rules as suggested by the European Commission this week.

In July and August, advertising revenue for Europe’s press fell between 20% and 50%, recording the worst drop ever, according to data collected by the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA).

“The worst falls affected Central and Eastern Europe. Newspapers in countries like Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic recorded a 50% decrease in their advertising revenues,” ENPA Executive Director Valtteri Niiranen told EURACTIV.

“In Northern Europe revenues shrank by 20%, while in Southern Europe by 35%,” Niiranen added.

The economic crisis prompted the historic drop in commercial revenues, as many companies cut advertising expenses as part of wider cost-cutting programmes. 

But newspapers are facing a crisis which goes beyond the current general turmoil, with the Internet pulling readers away from papers while new actors compete for advertising income, newspapers’ biggest source of revenue.

“Every element of our business is under pressure and the fundamental challenge is how to take advantage of the limitless possibilities offered by digital technology and distribution for the benefit of our readers, whilst ensuring that publishing businesses remain profitable enough to continue to invest in professional journalism and the creative process,” said Angela Mills, executive director of the European Publishers’ Council, which represents the main EU publishers.

To prevent further losses, publishers are asking the European Commission to keep EU copyright rules as they stand. “Now is not the time to pull the rug from under us by changing copyright law just at the very moment when publishers are more commercially vulnerable than ever before,” Mills said.

Their call, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. This week, Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding announced in a joint statement their intention to push for reform of the “fragmented” EU copyright system.

The announcement came as the EU executive was holding a public hearing on Google’s controversial initiative to digitise old books. The commissioners offered their support for the Google Books project and promised to “modernise” EU rules on copyright to make similar initiatives flourish (EURACTIV 08/09/09).

“A possible change in the current EU copyright framework in the favour of other stakeholders, such as Google, would represent a direct threat to the viability of the publishing industry,” ENPA and FAEP (the Federation of European Magazines) stressed in a statement after their presidents had met Commissioner Reding this week.

Google is in the firing line of European publishers over its book project and its online news service (Google News), as well as due to its predominant position in the global online advertising market.

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