News Publishers Ask For Monopoly Powers To Fight Back Against Google/Facebook Monopoly
from the if-you-can't-beat-them,-join-them-in-antitrust-violations dept
Cool. Cool. More two wrongs make a right legislation is being routed through the federal government. The first wrong? Facebook and Google have “too much” power, apparently, and they’re strangling the life out of news agencies. Allegedly. This would seem to raise antitrust issues, if they’re actually big enough to throttle newspapers and other publishers into submission. That’s a big if, but why wait until the facts are in to decide? How do you fight a supposed monopoly? By allowing more monopoly, apparently.
Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) plans to introduce a bill that would exempt publishers from antitrust enforcement so they can negotiate collectively over terms for distributing their content. Cicilline says the bill is designed to level the playing field between publishers and the tech giants, not dictate the outcome. Without an exemption, collective action by publishers could run afoul of antitrust laws around colluding over price or refusal to deal with competitors.
Oddly enough, several media companies are onboard with this hot monopoly-on-monopoly action. The News Media Alliance — representing 2,000 newspapers across the US and Canada — thinks it doesn’t have enough leverage to negotiate with social media companies. So, it wants to be allowed to break the law to make things more fair. It seems that if the problem is a social media/search engine monopoly, then legislators might want to have a word with the monopolists before allowing another set of media companies to collude to make the internet a shitty place to find news.
To make this plea for government-blessed collusion, the head of the NMA, David Chavern, has decided to belittle the internet and the people who use it.
[C]havern believes the news business warrants intervention because of its role in a healthy democracy. “The republic is not going to suffer terribly if we have bad cat video or even bad movies or bad TV. The republic will suffer if we have bad journalism,” he says, pointing to data from Pew that shows newspaper advertising fell by $4 billion from 2014 to 2016, even though web traffic for the top U.S. newspapers grew 42 percent during the same time period.
This is some prime elitist claptrap. The internet can be used for more than one thing. People who watch cat videos also read local reporting. People who enjoy bad TV also enjoy in-depth journalism. None of this is mutually exclusive and none of this has anything to do with Google or Facebook or media companies seeking permission to get the band back together and engage in monopolistic behavior. If you’re so dead set on “saving the republic,” why is your first move to punch holes in antitrust laws? Are you that obtuse? Do you think that hole won’t be made wider by competitors for consumers’ attention, resulting in even less traffic and ad revenue for news publishers?
While I understand the desire to “level” the playing field, the mechanism is completely wrong. Many, many publishers have complained about Facebook and Google destroying them but none have ever put their remaining money where their mouth is and walked away from whatever these tech companies have offered. Maybe they feel a bad deal is better than no deal at all. Or maybe they actually recognize these companies drive traffic to their sites — traffic they wouldn’t have otherwise.
At the bottom of this is a demand for money. Publishers want Google and Facebook to pay (more) for sending them traffic. Since they can’t produce enough leverage to sell this worthless bill of goods, they want the government to give them a pass on antitrust charges until they get the payout they want. This won’t work out the way they want it to and it will create a hole in antitrust laws others will exploit, all in the name of “fairness.”