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Michael Golden, publisher of the International Herald Tribune, on Tuesday defended the “serendipity” of newspapers against arguments that readers would increasingly want to buy individual stories over the internet.

Debating prospects for the newspaper industry at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Mr Golden acknowledged that “the common wisdom” was that large volume daily print titles could disappear within 10-15 years because of competition from digital media.

However, Mr Golden, who was speaking at an event hosted by MPG, said publishers were still investing in print presses on a longer term basis and newspapers could carry trusted relationships with readers and advertisers into new media, if they managed the transitition to digital correctly.

Mr Golden, who is also vice-chairman of the New York Times company, which owns the IHT, said: “The challenge is in the business model, the challenge is not in the culture.”

The sale of individual stories over the internet, he said, would undermine the economics of investing across a broad range of areas, as well as change the nature of newspapers.

Mr Golden said: “There is the news that you know that you want to find - like the sports results or stock prices. And then there is the news you find by serendipity which should not be under-estimated.”

The chances of readers discovering stories in this way would be lessened if they were only ordering and buying material they knew they would be interested in.

Earlier, Philippe Jannet, managing director of electronic publishing at Les Echos warned that although sale of individual web stories was only a small part of the French newspaper’s electronic offerings, those “newspapers who do not sell by individual stories will die”.

Currently, the IHT does not sell new, individual stories electronically, though it believes these could be well suited for mobile services, Mr Golden said. Subscribers could also buy individual material from the archive.

Both executives were enthusiastic about the potential for e-paper products - where content is read over specially-adapted small portable screens. A Les Echos e-paper service, which the paper offers as well as subscriptions to the website, a pay per view product or individual story sales, was demonstrated to delegates.

Mr Golden said the New York Times company would this summer test a version of software used for e-paper, which would be embedded in the new VISTA platform from Microsoft. If successful, the reader could be released in January.

Click here to read Carlos Grande’s latest diary from the Cannes Lion festival

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