Newspapers Fear Legal Notices Going Online
Proposals to loosen the methods by which legal notices can be given crop up once a year in numerous states. On August 19, 2013, WyomingNews.com published an item mentioning that two bills had been proposed which would slightly reduce the frequency of legal notices. While the newspaper industry in Wyoming is not wild about such a change it seems that they understand that a small hit in revenue is better than what is coming eventually - which is notices leaving print altogether. Until now, state press associations and individual newspapers have mobilized corporate lobbying campaigns that have gotten the bills withdrawn or killed in committee.
Recently Virginia was the hot spot for the problem. “We have eight bills in seven committees,” Ginger Stanley, administrator of the Virginia news organization, said. Many of those concepts are thought-about and rejected in recent years, she added, “but we've never seen this volume before.”
2014 simply may well be the year some state takes the plunge and permits a kind of on-line posting to satisfy legal notice publications.
The argument for electronic legal notices
Advocates of electronic legals have 3 main arguments.
High of the list is savings; a mid-sized municipality generally will pay around $20,000 on the newspaper ads. A major city (Sacramento, as an example), would possibly pay ten times that, whereas the typical state (Washington, for instance) will pay more like $500,000.
Second, they argue that with falling circulation, print newspapers not touch most of the households in the community as they did many decades ago.
Finally, they contend that, free of per word rating, a web notice will be a lot more expansive and informative in the notice, at no further price. Showing for instance, a map of a planned sectionalization of a proposed land development like San Stino.
Newspapers receive up to 5% of their advertising revenue from notices; small papers the size of the Mt Democrat get an even higher percentage from fees charged for legal notices.
As newspaper-advertising revenue has dropped precipitously in the last five years, other classifieds, together with legal and paid obituaries, have stayed the one reliable income stream as automotive, real estate, and recruitment ads have all migrated to separate websites.
As you may expect, newspaper interests fighting to keep legal notices from going online for years have sharpened their writing skills with lot of refined arguments masking their pure economic self-interest.
The argument for print demand
1) The government would not save that much because secure websites are expensive to maintain.
2) The websites might not appear as an independent third-party publication.
3) The websites might not be seen by a large audience.
4) Newspapers already publish the legal notices on their own websites and some states have corroborative websites that index all legal notices in one place.
5) The move would be a hardship for the elderly and the poor.
The nationwide movement
Mark Moscow edits a pro-deregulation website, www.legal-notice.org, chronicling state-by-state action on moving legal notices online. Over the last few years many legislation changes have been proposed, however most have ultimately been defeated.
Moscow adds 2 arguments to the standards. “The production prices for posting electronically are minuscule,” he said, “and several of the folks (municipalities) being charged by newspapers are going bankrupt.” We only need to look at San Bernardino, Stockton, and Vallejo to see that those municipalities and their taxpayers could use a cost saving method for posting legal notices.
He is also irked, Moscow said, by newspaper editorials on the topic. “Newspapers are using their editorial space to plead for their business interests. To me, they are losing credibility doing that.” Sample headlines include: “Keep public notices in newspapers, not buried online,” The News Tribune of Tacoma; “Legal notice bill a sneak attack on N.J. newspapers,” The Star Ledger of Newark.
Locally we can see this in Today's Mt Democrat editorial, "Hyperlocal meltdown" where the papers writes, "A year ago an assemblyman proposed a bill that would have allowed an Internet-only ‘news entity’ to become adjudicated as a newspaper of general circulation and thus qualified to publish legal notices. Fortunately that bill is dead. More than that the Internet scheme behind this whole bill is nearly deader than a doornail itself."
In this editorial the paper deceptively mixes apples and oranges when it writes, "More than that the Internet scheme behind this whole bill is nearly deader than a doornail itself." The movement in main, is not about hyper-local news services, but about moving notices to governmental or industrial run website clearinghouses. To imply that a hyper-local news by AOL, that the Democrat Editorial derisively calls an "Internet scheme", that announced it is cutting back staff and scale indicates that movement of legal notices to a more cost effective online method is proof that it is "nearly deader than a doornail itself" demonstrates that either the editorial staff is disingenuous or simply ignorant.
Unlike the Mt Democrat, the Virginia Press Association’s Stanley counters that editorials in her state have systematically disclosed the economic profit to newspapers. In addition, she said, there fully may be a legitimate issue concerning how it is best to tell the general public.
One industry professional wrote, "I worked on the business side of a group of publications quite dependent on legal notices and it was senior management's biggest worry that the local government and clerk would wake up to the fact that they could save 80% or more by posting notices on line. It was an indefensible position and we knew it. It is surprising that the convention has lasted this long."
Political scientists who have taken a glance at the problem see an easy reason newspapers have systematically won. For municipalities and other, inserting legal notices online would provide savings, however modest savings. For newspapers, the stakes are much higher as they struggle just to stay in business, so that they work harder, spend more cash, and lobby hard to insure that the less-than-green paper print requirement for legal notices remains the law.
Nevertheless, the tide can be shifting.
Here are just a few recent stories:
California Legal Notice Bill Gets It Right. AB 642 Allows Online News Organizations To Compete To Publish Notices. 29 March 2013.
WYOMING-Newspapers Acquiesce To Two Bills, Which Could Move More Legal Notices Online. Have They Lost Their Influence? 19 August 2013.
NY State Assembly Allows Bills To Be Published Electronically. Legal Notices Remain in Print. 14 August 2013.
In Arizona, House Passed Bill Which Will Limit Notices In Print AND Defeated Another Legal Notice Bill. 29 March 2013.
MARYLAND- Online Notice Bill Could Save State $6-$9 million. 4 March 2013.
ARIZONA Legislator's Proposal Offers A Novel Solution to Legal Notice Publishing. 18 March 2013.
Letter to The Editor: California Legal Notice Advertiser Explains "Abusive" Newspaper Advertising Pricing Strategy. 9 August 2013.
In this story, Greg W. wrote:
I publish legal trustee sale notices throughout the State of California, every ad is almost identical. I’ve seen publication costs throughout the state increase from approximately $300-$500 dollars to over $2,000 in many cases.
Perhaps some of that increase is due to the longer notices required, or inflation? However, the increases have varied substantially from paper to paper. I had recent sales in Butte County for which publication charges ran in the $2,000-$2,200 range. This is “normal” for Butte. But when I ran a set of publications in Hemet, Riverside County, the paper down there charged $950. In San Bernardino, it was $520?
My issue is, that I think the papers have carte blanche to charge whatever prices they want. And it is directly taking money out of the equity in the property. Homeowners will see less of the surplus after sale if any, it’s much more expensive to bring a loan current or payoff and lenders will pay more to recover, which will passed along to the market.
Year-by-year, digital formats gain on print in share of audience and in advertising revues. As new media becomes the standard in both business and personal lives, this trend will continue.
For newspapers, though, losing a reliable and mandated revenue stream is precisely what they do not want as they struggle to stay financially healthy enough to last a few more years as they try to adapt to the paradigm. The unknown question is if they will be able to change like the Studebakers when they went from building horse-drawn wagons to automobiles, or will they be left on the ash heap of industries that died because they could not adapt to technical evolution.
If legal-notice.org were designated as an "Official", free, publication outlet for public notices, small businesses and taxpayers would have saved this amount since its inception.
See more here: http://legal-notice.org/
Cris Alarcon, Placerville Newswire.