A Web site that refers car buyers to dealerships has charged that the Boston Globe refused to run its ad for fear that it would cut into the newspaper's own revenue.
The rejection prompted the company's cofounder to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Massachusetts attorney general's office.
"The Boston Globe needs to realize that the Internet is a networking media," said Neal Bocian, president of PrimeNetiX, the company which has established the auto-shopping site. "Radio stations run ads and they don't take away from newspapers, and newspaper ads don't take away from television."
Globe officials today said they are aware of the complaint and are currently conferring with the paper's legal counsel.
The dispute highlights what many media analysts believe is a mounting problem: the budding competition between Web sites and traditional media for customers and revenue.
Similar cases are surfacing at other papers nationally. Last year, two California dailies, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times, rejected ads that pointed readers to the Net for job listings and real-estate information. Both papers have similar services that may act as competitors.
PrimeNetiX built a site that allows users to search for cars depending on model, year, and price. Bocian placed a quarter-page ad in the Globe on August 10. The URL, Cablecars.com, was prominent and brought in about 4,000 users, he said.
Two days later, Bocian said, the Globe contacted him and said it would no longer accept the ad under what it called a "revised automotive advertisement policy." The policy was sent to all automotive advertisers, according to Globe spokesman Rick Gulla.
The policy states that it will "accept in-paper ads containing Internet addresses, assuming the primary content directly promotes cars for sale or leasing, with not more than ten percent of the space in the advertisement being devoted to the Internet."
Bocian complied and shrunk his URL down to ten percent of the ad space, but again he was turned down. This time, he was told that prices must be included in the ad, or he could advertise in another section for three times the price.
"They are forming a roadblock on the information highway," said Bocian. "Boston.com (the paper's own Web site) is all over the paper. Why should they be able to advertise their Web address if we can't?"
The Globe says that's not the issue. "That's his point of view," said Gulla. "The reason for this new policy is to protect the integrity of the automotive section. Our automotive section's purpose is to sell or lease vehicles. We do not allow any other services like car insurance or auto repair." Bocian's ad was refused because it did not include an automobile model or price, according to Gulla.
Bocian contacted the rival Boston Herald and ran his original ad on August 17.
Gulla said the Globe and the Herald have different policies and he expects new policies to occur when appropriate. "The landscape on the Internet is changing rapidly and is going to continue to change," he said. "As that happens we will develop policies that we believe protect the integrity of the Globe newspaper and advertising sections."