Will Antitrust Exemption Help Newspapers?

Whenever people debate whether newspapers should charge for online content, one of the first points raised is that any individual newspaper that does so will likely place itself at a disadvantage to all the other papers that continue to offer material for free.

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.

6 comments about "Will Antitrust Exemption Help Newspapers?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 24, 2009 at 6:11 p.m.

    Exactly true, Wendy. And the paying customers who share their news with nonpaying customers on Facebook and Twitter will be the last nail in the paid wall.

  2. Jim Lillicotch from, September 24, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

    This logic assumes that newspapers are the only ones reporting the news. If all the newspapers got together and put up a pay wall they would all quietly go away, together.

  3. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., September 24, 2009 at 6:17 p.m.

    How naive do these people think we are? "Competition from television and the internet" are causing them problems? Not at all - it's their own shortsightedness and stupidity that put them close to extinction. Newspapers were slow and executed poorly on their initial internet strategies, often creating departments of 4 or 5 people to run the entire online effort while hundreds ran the daily printed product. They treated internet like the red-headed stepchild until a guy named "Craig" came along and ate their lunch. Even then they continued with strategies that were clearly flawed and often too little too late - but hey, they were the pros who knew it all. I never met so many high-paid executives who were so clueless. Exemption? Let 'em go with their friends the dinosaur. I've seen this madness first hand - my favorite quote "That computer stuff will never replace ink on paper". As my teen would say "Epic Fail".

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 24, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

    Jim, you said a mouthful. Jonathan - there are examples that make a bald's person go grey. However, the computer stuff is not replacing ink on paper; it's diluting journalism which we cost us all more in a different way because print has not and it seems still refuses to use this other distribution channel to efficiently to keep it alive for the reasons you state.

  5. David Jaeger from Global SEM Partners, September 25, 2009 at 4:56 a.m.

    Dear Mr. Crybaby (Bankrupt) Newspaper CEO,

    You've had your' sales teams convincing advertisers to buy space in your' newspapers for years. No business ever narcissistically complained about not getting a free lunch.

    Please stop bitching and moaning. If you can't create a good business model, just sell it to someone who can... or ask our Dear President for a bailout.

    Nobody gives a flying f*** about the altruistic motives of newspaper executives for "newspaper standards". The question is whether they can sell the public on the value of paying for the the "newspaper standards" vs. what many online only news organizations are doing quite well, thank you.

    Seriously, go ahead and learn from some of those college dropouts who are doing quite well with online content publishing - it might just save your' business.

  6. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., September 25, 2009 at 2:16 p.m.

    In response to Mr. D. Jaeger - couldn't have said it better myself! I love the latest: the newspaper industry wants a tax break because of taxes they paid in past years when business was good, now that they're not doing so hot - they want the money back. Hey, I want that same deal! Three years ago we (and most other companies in the internet dev space were doing great) but now that half my large corporate customers have declared bankrupcy things are a bit tougher. I want MY taxes back too! And I want a pony! I was heavily involved in creating early digital models for the newspaper industry (most of which were rejected). All I can do now is sit back and go "uh-huh, have a nice day".

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