The News Media Alliance gained momentum on Friday in its long struggle for bargaining power with platforms as its merger with MPA – The Association of Magazine Media was endorsed by members of both groups.
Industries that once seemed distinct in terms of format, content, frequency and distribution have become much more similar in the digital age. And they find common ground to lobby, both to get compensation for their content from Google and Facebook and to negotiate over postage rates.
The merger deal, which I reported on three weeks ago, leaves the NMA, which represents American newspapers and a handful of other media companies, in control of the combined entity. Its President and CEO, David Chavern, will serve as CEO of the larger situation.
In a joint interview, Chavern and Rita Cohen, senior vice president of MPA, told me that negotiations for the merger took several years. They had been initiated by two large member companies of the two groups – Hearst and Condé Nast/Advance.
The two industries together have $45 billion in annual revenue, according to Chavern, $20 billion for newspapers and $25 billion for magazines. “It’s big,” he said. “Recorded music, on the other hand, is a $15 billion (per year) business.”
While each of the publication categories has struggled with declining print ad revenue and the difficulty of digital transformation over the past 20 years, the associations are financially sound. Chavern said the NMA’s research and training arm, the American Press Institute, has an endowment of about $45 million. The NMA itself has about an additional $15 million in operating reserves for rainy days.
Cohen declined to provide comparable figures for MPA, but added “we weren’t about to fold (for financial reasons) – I wouldn’t want to leave that impression.”
MPA had been based in New York, the center of magazine publishing, since its founding in 1919. But it moved its offices to Washington (where the NMA is based) in 2019 to focus more on advocacy.
Its annual US magazine media conference, usually held at luxury resorts in places like Bermuda and Palm Springs before returning to New York, was put on hiatus during the pandemic and will not be restarted, Cohen said.
The NMA discontinued its own annual conference several years ago, now participating with several other associations in the so-called mega-conference.
Chavern said he hopes the combined association will have the opportunity to jointly meet product specialists, whose work spans editorial and business functions and whose jobs are similar in magazines, newspapers and purely digital businesses. .
Another common thread, he and Cohen say, is that newspapers and magazines are increasingly focusing on daily digital reporting and venturing into events, videos and podcasts.
But the main event will be lobbying, and its main goal is to extract more money from Facebook and Google for the content they use on their platforms.
The NMA has been working for years to secure an antitrust exemption so that newspapers can bargain collectively with platform companies. The idea is embodied in the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a bill that didn’t pass in 2021, currently being reviewed for reintroduction in this session of Congress.
Similar laws targeting platform companies and the harm they have inflicted on publishers were passed this year in Australia and are being introduced in other societies.
We can count on Google and Facebook to fight back. Companies rightly claim that they send traffic and ad opportunities to publishers. However, they also set the rules and rates, harvest user data, and then sell their own ad products (which have sucked digital ad dollars from media companies).
At times, Google and Facebook have said they could simply remove news content if publishers don’t like the deal they’re getting. “It’s a bad direction,” Chavern said. “News may only be a small fraction of their content…but it’s a big driver of consumer engagement.”
If the Journalism Preservation and Competition Act passes, it’s unclear what will happen next, Chavern and Cohen said. Big companies like The New York Times and Hearst have the power to strike their own deals and could choose to continue to do so. But for smaller independent publications, collective bargaining could prove to be a life raft.