Groupe Les Echos History

Address:
46, rue la Boetie
75381 Paris CEDEX 08
France

Telephone: (33) 1.49.53.65.65
Fax: (33) 1.45.63.53.33

Website:
Subsidiary of Pearson Group
Incorporated: 1908 as Les Echos de l'Exportation
Employees: 500
Sales: FFr 748 million (US $129 million) (1997)
SICs: 2721 Periodicals; 2731 Book Publishing

Company History:

A member of British media giant the Pearson Group since 1988, Groupe Les Echos is among France's leading financial and medical information publishers. The company's flagship daily newspaper, Les Echos, is France's oldest and most read financial newspaper, with a paid circulation of more than 132,000. The subscription-based, online version of Les Echos offers, in addition to the daily, extensive services, including ongoing financial updates and stock market quotations, access to archives and to market sector and business-specific reports. In addition to the daily newspaper, Les Echos publishes the monthly magazine, Enjeux Les Echos, France's second largest selling financial and economic magazine. The company's financial branch also publishes various supplements throughout the year, including a yearly report on the 500 leading French corporations.

Les Echos also is a leading publisher of French-language medical information. The company's medical titles include the bi`monthly Revue du Praticien, the weekly Revue du Praticien Médecine Générale, and the bi-weekly Panorama du Médecin, La Revue du Praticien Gynécologie et Obstétrique, and La Revue Fran&ccedilse du Dommage Corporel, as well as a yearly series of supplements and research newsletters.

Guided by editors-in-chief Nicolas Beytout and Emile Favard, Les Echos has increased its circulation more than 120 percent since the mid-1980s. The company's financial publications provide more than 60 percent of its revenues, which neared FFr 750 million in 1997.

A Turn-of-the-Century Marketing Tool

Although Les Echos would grow into France's premier financial and corporate newspaper, its original purpose was to serve as a marketing brochure for the commercial business of founder Robert Schreiber. A son of Prussian immigrants, Schreiber had joined his parents' import firm selling products from central Europe. Schreiber took over the family business after the death of his father in 1902. Schreiber next formed a partnership with Albert Aronson, locating the commercial firm, Maison de Schreiber and Aronson, in Paris's tenth arrondissement. In 1908, Schreiber, seeking a means to publicize the company's merchandise, began producing a four-page monthly newsletter, Les Echos de l'Exportation, with the subtitle, Bulletin mensuel de la maison Schreiber et Aronson. This newsletter, among the first of its kind in France, was distributed free of charge not only to the company's prospective and actual customers, but also to its competitors. Beyond simply providing descriptions of the company's products, Les Echos provided market, customs, and other shipping information for its primarily import-export sector clients. From the start Schreiber sought advertisers to finance the paper.

The first Les Echos appeared in April 1908, in an edition of 1,000 copies. By the end of its first year Les Echos had attracted some 135 subscribers. Schreiber was eager to develop the newspaper. In 1909 he sold a portion of Les Echos to a Berlin-based equivalent, Confectionaire. The partnership enabled Schreiber to boost Les Echos to 16 pages, printing on higher-quality paper and featuring a color cover. Schreiber also changed the now bi-monthly paper's subtitle to Journal d'information pour le commerce et l'industrie to reflect its widening scope. The new format proved a quick success. Circulation rose to 5,000 copies, of which some 3,000 were accounted for by subscriptions. The company moved to larger quarters in 1910. The growing success of Les Echos also enabled Schreiber to bring brothers Emile and Georges into the company. In the early years of the new decade the growing advertising revenues also would allow Schreiber to buy back full control of the paper from his German partner. Les Echos had offices in London, New York, and Brussels in 1912.

In 1913 the paper made the transition to a weekly 36-page format. The outbreak of the First World War, however, put the paper and Schreiber's commercial firm on hold. Called to service, Schreiber and his brothers would suspend publication for the duration. With the end of the war, Schreiber decided to devote himself fully to his publishing activities, ending his association with Aronson. Reincorporating as Schreiber Frères, the company was now a partnership between Robert, who contributed 20,000 francs and became the company's director, and brother Emile, who contributed 10,000 francs and was placed in charge as editor-in-chief. Emile's participation in the company eventually would reach parity with his brothers, so that by 1938 the brothers were equal partners.

Between the World Wars, Les Echos would continue to develop, both in focus and in revenues. A new subtitle, La Grande Revue Commerciale Fran&ccedilse, was adopted, marking Les Echos' position as France's first economic and financial newspaper; the paper's primary focus, however, remained the commercial import-export sector. Circulation rose to 10,000, and the company's increasing advertising revenues enabled it to expand the paper's format to 44 pages. With Emile Schreiber as editor-in-chief and later director, Les Echos also became a vocal proponent of American-style free-market capitalism, while supporting such social initiatives as the five-day work week and paid vacations.

The company's growing revenues prompted it to expand its foreign offices, opening in Vienna, Bucharest, Milan, Warsaw, Frankfurt, and other major European cities. During the 1920s Les Echos began making its first diversifications into other publishing areas. In 1925 the company began producing a second industry-specific paper, Les Echos des Industries d'Art, and began publishing in other languages, including a quarterly in English, Spanish, and German and yearlies in Japanese and Portuguese.

Succeeding the Family in the 1960s

By 1928 Les Echos had grown to a subscriber base of more than 8,000. The increase in revenues permitted the Schreibers to transform the paper into a daily, maintaining the larger weekly paper while adding a daily four-page supplement. The following decade--beginning with the Depression and culminating in the German occupation of France--would spell difficulties for Les Echos. Although the company was able to maintain a circulation of 10,000 copies and a subscriber list of more than 7,000, the shattered economy placed pressure on the company's primary revenue generator, advertising sales. By 1931 the Schreibers were forced to put an end to their other publishing activities to concentrate on keeping Les Echos afloat. The company moved to the Champs Élysées, where rents were lower at the time. A new editor-in-chief, Jacques Rozner, was named, and Robert and Emile turned toward boosting advertising and subscription sales.

The occupation of France by Germany in 1940 forced the company once again to close down its newspaper. The Schreibers--being Jewish--sold their company to a non-Jewish friend to preserve Les Echos from German appropriation. The Schreibers joined the maquis, adopting the surname Servan. Emerging from the war years, the brothers would adopt the surname Servan-Schreiber. Les Echos resumed publication in December 1944. Because of the postwar paper shortage, the newspaper was limited initially to a bi-weekly format, but quickly returned to daily publication. Emile once again took charge of the paper's editorial content, and Robert headed the company's sales activities.

By the end of the decade, Les Echos, boosted by France's burgeoning postwar industrial boom, had reached a circulation of some 30,000 copies, including 25,000 subscribers. The company also had become very much a family operation, with as many as 12 members of the Schreiber family holding positions in the company. This intense family involvement, however, would lead to growing tensions in the next decade, particularly as succession issues began to emerge. Into the 1950s, however, the company's profitability permitted the Schreiber family to prosper.

Prosperity--and politics--would lead to a schism in the Schreiber family. Jean-Claude Schreiber, eldest son of Robert, joined the company's directorship in 1949, followed soon after by the eldest son of Emile, Jean-Jacques Schreiber. With the elder Schreibers approaching retirement (Robert was in his 70s and Emile was in his mid-60s), the younger generation began to vie for control of the company's direction. Their dispute was exacerbated by the success of a new Les Echos project.

In 1953 Jean-Jacques launched L'Express, at a cost of some 30 million ancient francs (FFr 3 million). Subtitled Les Echos de Samedi (Saturday), the new weekly originally formed part of the regular Les Echos subscription, the rate of which was raised by 1,000 ancient francs (100 modern francs) per year to accommodate the new addition. Although L'Express managed to turn a slight profit by 1955, Les Echos itself began to suffer from the experience; in a single year, the company lost some 4,000 subscribers. The political cost of the new weekly was perhaps higher. Under Jean-Jacques, L'Express was formed in part to support the economic and social policies of French Premier Pierre Mendes France, diametrically opposed to the Gaullist initiatives supported by Les Echos and its subscriber base. The legislative elections of 1956 would lead to a break. In September 1955 Jean-Jacques converted L'Express into a daily newspaper, placing his support firmly behind the re-election of Mendes France to the country's premiership. In response, Jean-Claude had his name removed from L'Express, but the paper remained under the co-direction of the two branches of the family. After Mendes France's defeat, L'Express returned to a weekly format. Continued political disputes, centering around the future independence of French colony Algeria, would deteriorate further the relationship between the two sides of the Schreiber family.

Robert Schreiber stepped down from the company's direction in 1958. Under Emile and Jean-Claude, a new dispute emerged. By the late 1950s Les Echos had been stagnating. Its principal readership had been France's merchant and small business community; yet in the 1950s this class was being replaced by new developing industrial and commercial giants. Jean-Claude sought to rejuvenate Les Echos, reorienting its focus and investing in rebuilding the company, whereas Emile preferred to reduce the company's cost above all. The impasse was broken at last in 1960, with the arrival of Emile's youngest son, Jean-Louis, to the leadership of the paper's editorial direction. Under Jean-Louis, Les Echos reoriented its focus, now becoming a full-fledged economic newspaper after the model of the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The redeveloped Les Echos appeared in October 1960 and quickly achieved success, raising circulation some 15 percent in its first two years. By the early 1960s the company's revenues had grown to some FFr 12 million.

Joining Pearson in the 1990s

The referendum for the independence of Algeria in 1962 would lead to the final collapse of the relationship between the opposing sides of the Schreiber family. With neither side able to buy out the shares of the other, the family proved unable to provide direction to the company. In 1963 Les Echos ended up in commercial court, which placed the company under a provisional directorship. By the end of that month a solution to the family's problems emerged. Pierre Beytout, a director of the Roussel pharmaceutical concern, and wife Jacqueline, agreed to buy out the Emile Schreiber branch's 50 percent of the company. The price of FFr 3.6 million, however, also included the removal of Jean-Claude Schreiber from the company's direction for a period of 18 months. By the end of that year the Beytouts had succeeded in buying up the 16 percent of Les Echos held by one of Jean-Claude's sisters, Marie-Geneviève. With majority control, Jacqueline Beytout took over the company's direction, continuing the editorial path begun by Jean-Louis Schreiber. In 1965 the Beytouts gained full control of the company, buying up the remaining shares from Jean-Claude and his sister, Marie-France.

Jacqueline Beytout would lead Les Echos on a long period of growth. From a circulation of 38,000 at the beginning of the 1960s, the paper would reach 61,000 by the start of the 1980s, with paid subscriptions of 50,000. The 1980s, and the appearance of a new culture embracing the stock market, would lead to even stronger growth--by the end of the decade Les Echos had passed the 100,000 mark. Advertising not only provided strong revenue growth, but also healthy margins. Beginning in the early 1980s, Beytout began diversifying Les Echos into the medical publishing field. In 1982 the company acquired the monthly Panorama du Médecin, followed by the purchase of publisher Editions Jean-Baptiste Baillière and its Revue du Praticien. Les Echos also launched a new medical weekly, La Revue du Praticien Médecin Générale, in 1987. In the 1990s the company continued to develop and acquire medical titles, including Les Archives des Maladies du Coeur et des Vaiseux and 1997's Revue du Praticien Gynécologie et Obstétrique. On the financial side, Les Echos launched a new monthly economic magazine, Dynasteurs, in 1986. That magazine was a success, building a circulation of 80,000 by the early 1990s. In 1992 the monthly's name was changed to Enjeux Les Echos, a move which helped boost circulation to nearly 130,000 by 1997.

By then the Beytout family began confronting its own succession issues. At the same time the market had been changing, as international conglomerates began replacing many former independent publishers. In 1988 Jacqueline Beytout agreed to sell Les Echos to the Pearson Group for FFr 885 million. The acquisition would give Pearson a strong foothold in France's financial readership, which remained fiercely resistant to non-French publications. The financial clout of the Pearson Group (£2 billion in 1997 sales), meanwhile, assured the future prospects for Les Echos, while associating the daily with the venerable Financial Times.

Under Pearson, Les Echos would continue to build its circulation, passing 120,000 in the early 1990s and, despite the lingering economic crisis in France through the first half of the decade, nearing 140,000 by 1998. Although Jacqueline Beytout left the company in 1989, son Nicolas Beytout remained with the company, becoming editor-in-chief in 1996. Not all of the company's projects proved as successful. The monthly Argent magazine, launched in February 1996, was abandoned only five months later, after building losses of FFr 30 million. The company's medical publishing activities also came under threat, after an agreement was reached between the French government and pharmaceuticals companies calling for a reduction in the latter's advertising and promotion budgets.

More promising would be the Les Echos entry into the Internet, with the launch of an online edition of Les Echos in 1996. With some two million "hits" per month, the site turned commercial in 1997, offering subscription and per-consultation rates for not only the content of the daily newspaper, but also a wide range of value-added services, including consultation of the paper's archives. The French economy slowly emerged from the recession in the mid-1990s, bringing a resurging demand for economic and financial information. Les Echos continued to make strong revenue gains, nearing FFr 750 million for the year 1997.

Further Reading:

  • Eveno, Patrick, "90 bougies pour Les Echos," Performances, March 1998, p. 69.
  • Les Echos, "Historique du Groupe," http://www.lesechos.fr.
  • Roy, Frédéric, "Les Echos décide que ses infos valent le même prix on line que sur papier," CB News, October 27-November 11, 1997, p. 29.
  • Rusten-Hol, Alain, and Treiner, Sandrine, La Saga des Servan-Schreiber, Paris: Editions Seuil, 1993.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 25. St. James Press, 1999.