Would Joint Action on Online Pricing Violate Antitrust Laws?
Fitzgerald, Mark, Saba, Jennifer, Editor & Publisher
The under-the-radar meeting hosted by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) Thursday brought together top newspaper executives to discuss various issues, including the much-debated topic of charging for online content. Participants aren't commenting specifically on their discussions, but the summit raises the question: Can newspapers collectively decide to put content behind a pay wall? And if they did, would that violate antitrust laws? Aside from the historical precedence of the industry's past attempts at togetherness -- such as the failed New Century Network or the inability to standardize ad formats and billing -- it would be miracle indeed if newspapers decided to simultaneously erect pay walls.
John Sturm, the NAA's CEO, told E&P today that at no point was price discussed during the gathering that included McClatchy chief Gary Pruitt, Dallas Morning News Publisher Jim Moroney, Lee Enterprises' Mary Junck and E.W. Scripps Mark Contreras. "Everybody in the room is an adult," Sturm said. "Price was never discussed and there was no reason to discuss price -- it's always a local decision."
Sturm noted that William Baer, a partner at the Washington D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter and a former bureau director for the Federal Trade Commission, was on hand during the meeting.
While Sturm wouldn't comment on the details of the meeting, he said that two subgroups were formed to look further into intellectual property matters and classified solutions. He stressed the meeting was just an exchange of ideas. Northwestern law professor Fred McChesney said it's not impossible for newspapers to collectively charge for online content. …