Thursday, February 21, 2008

For Sale: One Newspaper, slightly used

It's not surprising that the Albuquerque Tribune, the second paper in a two-paper town, announced that Saturday's edition will be its last. The paper has shrunk from 42,000 readers twenty years ago to under 10,000 today, a precipitous drop that would be hard to right in the current environment. What is surprising is the current offer on the table to buy the paper: just $10,000.

Yes, for less than the cost of a Toyota Yaris, you can own your own daily newspaper.

Unfortunately, you'd have to invest quite a bit in the paper, as it doesn't do its own ad sales, circulation, printing, subscriptions or any business operations. Those were run by a jointly owned corporation between the Tribune and the other paper in town, the Albuquerque Journal.

If that sounds like a bad idea to you, that's because it probably is. But it's allowed under something ironically titled the Newspaper Preservation Act, which was passed in 1970 to save newspapers, whose circulation numbers were in decline. Looking at the list of papers that operated under a joint publishing agreement that have folded, it seems like maybe thwarting anti-trust laws by essentially divvying up a local monopoly among two parties wasn't the best idea--though I'm sure the media giants at the time couldn't wait to join up.

Those that talk of legislative action to save the declining newspaper industry today would do well to consider the ramifications of their actions. In the case of the Albuquerque Tribune, it's a "public trust" now worth less than a compact car.