One more kick in the kidneys for papers: The end of legal ads

One form of revenue – and, truth be told, government subsidy – for newspapers that hasn’t gone away – yet – is legal ads. Laws require notices to be given to the population as a whole and newspapers were judged to be the best vehicle for them. No more. A court in Maine just ruled that notice in a paper is no longer sufficient because papers are now, well, too puny.

In a unanimous decision published Tuesday on the court’s Web site, Associate Justice William Clifford wrote that the practice of putting lawsuit notification in a newspaper began “when newspapers were the only means of print mass communication, and when newspapers were more widely and intensely read than is now the case … Because service by publication has become less likely to achieve actual notice of a lawsuit, it is also less likely to meet the requirements of due process.”

See, too, John Bury in the Star-Ledger’s NJ Voices saying that politicians will kill legal ads – and with them, some papers – when they wise up.

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  • Jeff,

    As you yourself document the demise of various advertising subsidies for newspapers the question becomes where will the revenues come from.

    Good then to see today’s coverage in PaidContent.org of Bill Keller’s comments that the New York Times is again considering subscription as one way of generating additional revenue.

    Unlike you and some of the other “socialist digerati” (to quote Henry Blodgett’s wry but apt description today in Silicon Alley Insider), Keller does not share the view that Times Select was a failure. Rather, Keller states that Times Select was discontinued due to a decision by Times management to open the firewall in order to generate more links and, potentially, more advertising revenue.

    This is, of course, what you have long advocated — but it is premised on the availability of sufficient advertising revenue (as is much of your “What Would Google Do?” philosophy of open linking and networking), which is no longer proving to be the case in the current climate.

    It was always a mischaracterization, or misunderstanding if one wishes to be charitable, for you to describe Times Select as a “failure.” It suited your purposes to make that claim, but it was not an accurate depiction of the reasons for its closure.

    Now that Keller indicates that the Times is considering new online subscription opportunities, and reiterates that Times Select was not at all a financial failure, what evidence are you able to cite to support your opposition to a subscription model? Times Select was always your Exhibit #1.

    Kind regards,
    Evan Rudowski

  • We have a similar situation with legal ads here in Germany. No local court has to book them, but some still do. It’s not clear if this is because it take some time for a new law to trickle down to every public subsidy or if there are courts who want to go on with this.

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  • I have to agree with the court decision: In today world a newspaper publication is less likely to achieve actual notice of a lawsuit.

  • What this gives rise for is a Government Gazette database. At present this falls into a mirriad of national/federal department web sites and regional government web sites. Pattent office, governement contract sites, etc. Now why not link the registration of Births and deaths with the announcements and obbit content. All in searchable form. An excellent kind of thing Google would do (Referrence intended). Complete with allerts on family names and localization of course.

  • Joe

    Went through this last year in New York County (Manhattan) when I formed an LLC. The state forces you to run ads in two newspapers, with one being daily, for six consecutive weeks. Tiny little ads (I think ours was 11 lines), but the total cost was over $1,000. And the value of this? So lead generation companies could harvest your address and send you junk mail. Just have the secretary of state in each state keep an online, open, searchable database of all such notices and problem solved. And hell, pay the state $100 for the privilege, and it becomes a win-win for the companies and the government. The only losers are newspapers — particularly those like the local law journals that make most of their revenue off this — but this is a needless cost of doing business and should be eliminated.

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  • cyberchick

    Interesting. Was at a meeting where a mayor was complaining about having to dole out tens out thousands a year in legal ads to the local paper (whose circulation is barely 10 percent of the region) because state law says so. Even though the city has its own Web site, even though the state has a great Web site, even though there are many bidding Web sites to host such RFPs.

    Technology in the past decade has made a lot of old rules obsolete. With towns and cities cutting staff left and right, how can anyone justify that kind of expense?

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