Will Antitrust Exemption Help Newspapers?
Some commenters have suggested that the solution to this problem is for all newspapers to start charging for content. But even if every paper in the country was so inclined, there's still a problem: Newspaper executives would likely violate antitrust laws by collectively agreeing to put content behind a paid wall.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) raised this issue today at a Joint Economic Committee hearing about the future of the newspaper industry. She asked whether the industry needs an antitrust exemption in order to implement "collective pricing policies for online subscriptions."
Newspaper Association of America CEO and president John Sturm said that newspapers weren't looking to set rates. But he also said that antitrust laws -- at least as currently interpreted -- don't accurately reflect the fact that newspapers face competition from TV, the Internet and other forms of media.
Meanwhile, Princeton professor Paul Starr was extremely unenthusiastic about the prospect of allowing papers to collude to fix prices. "I would be very concerned about giving the industry as a whole the power to set prices for news," he said. "What may look like a solution for the industry could actually be a problem for the country."
But the discussion about whether to revise antitrust laws overlooks that even if the laws were changed, some sites -- newspaper sites as well as blogs and/or sites connected to TV stations -- would surely continue to offer news for free. And, as long as news is available anywhere for free, many consumers simply won't pay for it, no matter how much the industry would like them to.