Monday, May 12, 2003

Fun with market definition

As Nick mentioned below, I've been following a Justice Department antitrust case involving the supposed market for "alternative newsweekly" publications. Today I filed a second amicus brief with the federal court overseeing the proposed Village Voice-New Times settlement. Among the topics I discuss is the government’s seemingly vague market definition:

“Alternative Newsweekly” means a publication (such as the Cleveland Scene or LA Weekly) that possesses more than one of the following attributes: (i) it is published in a geographic area served by one or more daily newspapers to which residents turn as their primary source or sources of printed news; (ii) it is published weekly (or less frequently), and at least 24 times annually; (iii) it is distributed free of charge; (iv) it is not owned by a daily newspaper publishing company; and (v) it is a general interest publication that does not focus exclusively on one specific topic, such as music, entertainment, religion, the environment, or a political party or organization.

Under these criteria, the DOJ concluded that Village Voice and New Times were “monopolizing” the geographic markets of Los Angeles and Cleveland, respectively. But that’s not exactly true. The definition says a “publication” need to meet only “more than one” of the five characteristics mentioned.

Take this blog, for example. This is a publication, albeit an electronic one. It is distributed free of charge. It is not owned by a daily newspaper publisher. It is a general interest publication not fixated on any one topic. That’s three of the five. And this blog is accessible in Cleveland and Los Angeles. That should, in theory, make this blog (and every other blog in the country) a direct competitor of the “alternative newsweekly” papers put out by Village Voice and New Times.

And there are other publications which fill similar markets to the well-known “alternative newsweekly” papers, such as college newspapers. Yet none of these choices were included in the DOJ’s marketplace definition in this case. Then again, it’s probably a good thing the DOJ didn’t take their market definition that seriously. By gerrymandering an “alternative newsweekly” market, the DOJ simply undermines their own credibility.

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