The Fourth's Estate

54 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021

See all articles by Ramsi Woodcock

Ramsi Woodcock

University of Kentucky College of Law

Date Written: September 25, 2021


The news industry in the United States faces a funding crisis because the tech giants, particularly Google and Facebook, have acceded to the advertising monopolies once enjoyed by the newspaper industry itself. Despite the best efforts of the news industry to paint the tech giants as rapacious monopolists, however, these big firms won by offering better services to users and better advertising opportunities to advertisers, so breakup is not appropriate, and is unlikely to restore the news industry’s profits anyway, because search and social media will remain better ad distribution channels than the news. A better solution to the funding crisis would be for government to divide the advertising distribution market, reallocating to the news industry some of the ad impressions taken from it by the tech giants. This indirect, property-rights-based approach to government subsidization would address concerns, however misguided, that direct subsidization à la the BBC might lead to political interference in newsgathering. An important collateral benefit would be the opportunity to limit the total amount of advertising consumed by the economy, by licensing fewer total ad impressions than are currently consumed. This would lead to an efficiency gain because advertising’s information function has withered in the information age, making advertising almost entirely manipulative in character, and therefore a threat to consumer sovereignty. Ad distribution revenues would not fall, however, because advertising cancels—firms advertise because others advertise, not because advertising increases sales—and so firms will bid up prices in proportion to the decline in available impressions. The proposed division and reduction of the advertising market would be constitutional because the purpose of First Amendment commercial speech doctrine is to protect consumer sovereignty, and restrictions on advertising that has become almost entirely manipulative in the information age do that.

Keywords: advertising, newspapers, antitrust, journalism, subsidy, regulation, licensing, state funding, public goods, first amendment, social media, tech giants

JEL Classification: K20, K21, L40, L50, L82, L88, M37, M38, H20, H27, H41, Z19

Suggested Citation

Woodcock, Ramsi, The Fourth's Estate (September 25, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Ramsi Woodcock (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky College of Law ( email )

620 S. Limestone Street
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
United States

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