Newspapers increase use of co-opetition practices

U.S. newspapers are increasing their use of co-opetition practices, that is, cooperating with competitors to reduce costs, create synergies, or reduce risk in new markets. Such activities are permissible if they are not designed to create cartels or control prices for advertising or circulation.

The latest example occurred this week when the Boston Herald announced an agreement with the Boston Globe for its competitor to print and deliver the Herald. The move creates cost savings for the Herald by allow it to cut printing, trucks, and delivery personnel, while simultaneously creating production and distribution economies and an additional revenue stream for the Globe--a win-win for both companies.

Such service agreements do not violate antitrust laws because the papers remain independent, set their own prices, and create their own content. If papers were to engage in such actions they would have to apply for an antitrust exemption under the Newspaper Preservation Act (see John C. Busterna and Robert G. Picard, Joint Operating Agreements: The Newspaper Preservation Act and its Application. Ablex, 1993), but those agreements have not proven successful in the long run.

The Boston agreement comes on the heels of numerous printing agreements, including that of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, that have been made among publishers in the last couple of years.

Another example of co-opetition is seen in the 59 newspaper and information companies—including New York Times Co., McClatchy Co., Washington Post Co., E.W. Scripps Co., A.H. Belo, and Associated Press—that have now banded together to create NewsRight to track use of digital content and ease its licensing. By cooperating with each other, the companies have brought more than 800 content sites into the operation and created a significant player in the digital industry.

Daily newspaper companies have historically disliked cooperation unless it was absolutely necessary—as in the case of news services. The new types of cooperation emerging show that the preference to go it alone is being eroded by contemporary financial conditions and the difficulties of operating independently in the digital environment.


Antonio A. Prado said...

Say there are two newspapers, with separate owners, that have some overlap in their circulation areas. So they compete in a mutual small area where they both distribute, sell ads and cover news.

Would their be an antitrust concern if the papers agreed to share content? All other functions would remain as they are. There would be no ownership changes, no other sharing - only editorial content. No money would be involved and the papers stay independent.

Robert G. Picard said...

Good question.

In itself, sharing content does not necessarily harm competition in a way that would bring antitrust action. The question is whether the competition is collusion that harms another competitor(s).

The smaller the market overlap of the papers sharing content, the less likely such an arrangement would be deemed inappropriate--especially if there are no direct competitor in the area.