Now in the News: FTC Proposal Would Require Newspapers To Accept Online Cancellations

March 24, 2023

Bill Would Eliminate Public Notice Requirement In Newspapers

A bill approved Wednesday by an Iowa Senate committee would create a new state website to publish public notices and eliminate a long-standing requirement for cities, schools and other entities to publish the notices in newspapers.

Proponents of Senate File 480 say it would result in significant savings for public entities that are required by state law to notify residents of meetings, public hearings, proposed budgets, elections, legal actions and a variety of other information.

Opponents say the legislation would lead to a less-informed public and to the closures of community newspapers that depend on revenue from the notices to operate. “I don’t believe that it is the government’s job to support the newspaper industry,” said Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire. “So if that’s an issue with their business model, perhaps that’s something they need to look at.”

The bill advanced from the Senate Ways and Means Committee in a split vote, with largely Democrats in opposition. Cournoyer argued that declining print newspaper readership, cutbacks in the days of publication and the rise of online news outlets have made newspapers a less-appropriate medium for distributing public information.

Lee Enterprises Yet To Prove Competitiveness In The Digital Age

Lee Enterprises is one of the largest American newspaper-holding companies. It owns and operates 77 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly publications. The company has suffered from the secular dynamics affecting newspapers and cyclical-top capital allocation decisions in the 2000s. The company has not broken the long-term decreasing trend yet, but I believe its businesses could compete with the new digital paradigm.

LEE’s cash profitability is much better than its accrual profitability, which helps repay debts but is insufficient to justify a purchase decision.

LEE has suffered almost two decades of value destruction caused by the secular decline in newspaper revenue from printing, competition from other news sources, and bad capital allocation decisions in the 2000s. Still, the company trades at a significant discount of FCF, has reduced debt significantly, and may have chances to fight back in some of its markets. Although my long-term view of the company’s newspapers is not as bleak as that of the market, I recognize that the company has been unable to break the decreasing organic revenue and profitability trend. Therefore, I am interested in LEE’s business in the long term, but I will avoid the stock for the time being until my longer-term market thesis is confirmed.

FTC Proposal Would Require Newspapers To Accept Online Cancellations

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday proposed that companies should be required to allow consumers to easily cancel paid subscriptions.

The proposed “click to cancel” rule would force companies to allow consumers to cancel an subscription via an online mechanism, assuming they also signed up online.

The FTC voted 3-1 to move forward with a formal rulemaking. “The new click to cancel provision, along with other proposals, would go a long way to rescuing consumers from seemingly never-ending struggles to cancel unwanted subscription payment plans for everything from cosmetics to newspapers to gym memberships,” the FTC stated Thursday.

“Canceling a subscription should be easy,” Chair Lina Khan added in a separate statement joined by Commissioners Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya. “To take a simple example, this would put an end to companies requiring you to call customer service to cancel an account that you opened on their website,” the FTC’s three Democrats added.

The proposed rule would also limit companies’ ability to change the minds of consumers who attempt to cancel subscriptions. While companies would be able to make better offers to people who try to cancel, the companies would have to first ask consumers whether they want to hear the offers. “In other words, a seller must take ‘no’ for an answer and upon hearing ‘no’ must immediately implement the cancellation process,” the FTC stated.

The proposed rule comes around 18 months after the FTC said in a policy statement that companies should provide consumers with “easy and simple” cancellation tools. “Marketers should provide cancellation mechanisms that are at least as easy to use as the method the consumer used to buy the product or service in the first place,” the FTC stated at the time.