Peter Scheer, executive of the California First Amendment Coalition, asks, “What if online portals had nothing but ‘digital fish wrap’?” He writes:
Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period — say, 24 hours — after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue.
I wish newspapers recognized their value and found ways to make money on it. This isn’t the way.
I’m not a lawyer. But having followed some antitrust cases closely in the past, and having heard today from someone with intimate familiarity with the field, I can say this: The plan as suggested above would very likely run a huge risk of violating antitrust law. And I’d lend my moral support the inevitable lawsuits by Google or Yahoo or whoever else filed them. (The feds, under current management, would probably see nothing wrong with this market manipulation.)
To suggest that part of the newspapers’ woes stem from competition for real-time news reminds me of how the owners of major-league sports franchises pay wildly inflated salaries to the players, and then beg the players to sign collective-bargaining agreements restricting high wages. Real capitalism does not favor idiocy at any level.
I want to save newspapers — or at least the good things they do — as much as anyone else. But creating a cartel-like system, no matter what it was called, would be a cure considerably worse than the disease, not to mention the fact that it wouldn’t work.
(Note: I’m on the board of the California First Amendment Coalition.)