Now here’s a novel idea. France’s president announced the country will give free newspaper subscriptions to all 18-year-olds. It’s an effort not only to help encourage young readers, but to help that country’s struggling newspaper industry.

A nice effort, but I don’t think young people aren’t reading newspapers because they can’t afford it. And, by age 18, many of their life habits have already been firmly established, so I don’t see many “new” readers coming out of this.

France’s money (as well as any money left here in the U.S.) would see better results if it were put into reading programs in elementary schools. Turning programs like Newspaper in Education from mere circulation tools into true newspaper-school cooperatives that build reading habits during a child’s developmental years will go farther in developing potential newspaper customers by the time they reach adulthood.

Then, once they are there, newspapers need to develop products that fit young reader interests and needs as well. The “one size fits all” daily newspaper is no longer a sure thing for your potentially new readers in the world of Twitter and YouTube.

And … most important of all … it’s not all about print. Newspapers must develop web products that can co-exist with your print products as well. Use your brand throughout your products to maintain credibility and develop loyalty.

Train them when they’re young, and keep their interest with targeted products. That will go a lot farther than a free subscription.

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