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MOSCOW, February 2. /TASS/. Rising paper costs, a shrinking market of advertising, and cancellation of subscription subsidies from the government are fraught with the risk many Russian printed media may go out of business this year. Some have suggested restoring the now prohibited alcohol and tobacco ads to newspaper and magazine pages, while others called for greater financial support from the government. The more so, since most Russians still look unprepared to quit the good old habit of unfolding a morning paper over a steaming cup of coffee or while commuting to work.
Shortly after the slump of the national currency Russia’s pulp-and-paper mills (most of them foreign-owned) have raised the prices of paper on the domestic market by more than 50%. As the daily Kommersant said on Monday, Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforov told Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev the printing industry may be heading for a collapse and the ensuring decline in the output of printed products, dismissals in the mass media industry and likely problems with purchasing textbooks and manuals.
The market of advertising has fallen dramatically to have dealt another heavy blow to printed media: with the beginning of critical trends companies have begun to slash their advertising budgets and this process keeps snowballing. Many printed media are speculating about forthcoming job cuts and other business optimization moves. For instance, some media supplements may be closed down, regional networks cut and subscription to news agencies’ services cancelled.
Another blow to printed mass media incomes has come from the authorities. This year the government cancelled 3 billion rubles in subscription subsidies. Before, the money had been distributed proportionately among rcipients according to the number of subscribers.
In early January, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin said that half of mass media would have to close down by the end of this year, while the retail prices of others might go up by 30-50%. Only emergency measures can save them, Volin believes. He did not rule out the possibility that the ban from advertising tobacco and alcohol in newspapers and magazines might be lifted. If the legislators reject this option, only financial support from the government will be able to save the press, he believes.
The printed media have been asking the Communications Ministry to let them advertise not only alcohol and tobacco, but also medical drugs available by prescription.
Russia has 60,000 newspapers and magazines. In contrast to Deputy Communication Minister Volin, the Industrial Association of Distributors of Printed Products offers a milder forecast: according to its estimates, up to 30% of periodicals will have to be closed.
State Duma member from the United Russia faction, Boris Reznik, a professional journalist in the past, is very critical of the idea of resuming the advertising of alcohol and tobacco in the printed media. He doubts they will get support from the State Duma. "That’s the last thing in the world that should be done," he told TASS.
Reznik believes that the government must guarantee mass media’s economic independence, which is a mandatory condition for the freedom of speech. In particular, the state unitarian enterprise Russian Post, which charges heavily for the delivery of printed products, in his opinion should be making money in other ways.
He does not share Volin’s pessimism about the high risk half of periodicals will vanish in a year from now. "If measures were taken to balance the situation, the newspapers would survive," he said.
Last January’s poll by the national opinion studies center WCIOM found that although the readership of electronic mass media was growing by leaps and bounds, as many as 73% of Russians still showed no signs of quitting the habit of leafing through hard copies of their favorite dailies and magazines.
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