So Village Voice Media, City Pages’ parent company, got hit today with a $6.3 million predatory pricing judgment in San Francisco. The amount could balloon to $15.6 million if the judge ladles on treble damages and the award withstands the inevitable appeal. The award has ex-VVM employees emitting gamma rays of schadenfreude — former CP editor Steve Perry has an insightful and entertaining version here.
The big question for locals, though, is simply: How much will this hurt City Pages? Official sources are in lockdown mode, but following last year’s Great CP Writers’ Diaspora, VVM management ratcheted down the pay scale and a bunch of freelance money evaporated. (Some arts holes are filled with copy from VVM’s 15 other alt-weeklies.) Not many editorial budgets are rising these days, but a payout would add considerable stress where no more is needed.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, since 2000 the VVM’s SF Weekly has seen annual revenues decline from $9 million to $6 million; the rival Bay Guardian saw an $11 million to $6 million decline over the same period. The San Francisco market is in much worse shape than ours, and discount-driven competition probably makes things even less analogous, but it gives you a sense that revenue pressure isn’t just a problem for the dailies. Assuming VVM doesn’t eat the payout at the corporate level, the worst-case verdict works out to about $1 million per paper.
VVM head man Michael Lacey is known for pugnaciousness, so appeals could drag out any day of reckoning for years, or eliminate it, should a higher court decide that San Fran jurors let their freak flag fly inappropriately. A possible silver lining is that CP, like other strong VVM papers, may have actually subsidized the Bay Area discounting, so a court-enforced end might slow or stop a cash drain, should it exist.