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Alexander Pugachyov, 25, who was raised in Monaco, has no previous experience running a newspaper.
Young Russian places risky bet on struggling French newspaper
PARIS — A small and shrinking newspaper with roots going back to the French Resistance was reborn yesterday thanks to a risky $68.78 million bet by one of Russia’s most influential tycoons.
France-Soir, the smallest of France’s national news dailies, printed 500,000 copies of its newly revamped daily, more than 20 times its normal circulation.
It also cut the cover price nearly in half, in a promotional launch intended to continue for a month.
The paper’s relaunch is being accompanied by a lavish $27.46 million publicity blitz in an attempt to convince readers that the once nearly bankrupt tabloid again merits a spot on Paris newsstands alongside rivals like Le Parisien, Le Monde, and Le Figaro.
Alexander Pugachyov, a 25-year-old whose father Sergey is a close friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and considered one of the most influential of Russia’s billionaire oligarchs, bought France-Soir last year and has since gone about expanding the newsroom from about 40 journalists to about 100, a spokeswoman for the paper said.
The paper’s initial newsstand price of 69 cents is half that of Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France, the country’s biggest circulation national news daily. The paper targets daily circulation of between 150,000-200,000, the spokeswoman said, which would put France-Soir in fourth place among the country’s big national dailies.
Very little is known about the younger Pugachyov, other than the fact that he was raised in Monaco and has no previous experience running a newspaper. He does, however, have a French passport, something his father doesn’t. That allowed the Pugachyovs to get around a French law limiting foreign ownership of media companies.
The elder Pugachyov made his fortune in banking in the early 1990s. He owns two of the largest military and civil shipbuilding yards in Saint Petersburg. Ongoing exclusive talks between Paris and Moscow toward the possible sale of four French warships could benefit the Pugachyovs, as the ships could be built in his shipyard, according to Russia specialist Arnaud Dubien of the IRIS think tank.
Alexander Pugachyov was unavailable for an interview yesterday, the France-Soir spokeswoman said.
The situation recalls the purchase last year of London’s venerable but money-losing paper The Evening Standard by another Russian tycoon, former KGB-agent Alexander Lebedev.
France-Soir was launched in 1944, after the Liberation. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was one of France’s biggest-selling dailies, with circulation reaching a peak of more than 1 million copies.
In recent years, the paper has suffered even more than the rest of the loss-making, shrinking French newspaper industry. Last year, its circulation dropped to only 23,000, according to figures from media tracking body OJD.