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Ministers accused of ignoring ‘predatory pricing’ claims

A media entrepreneur has criticised the government’s competitions watchdog for refusing to investigate alleged ‘predatory pricing’ in a Birmingham newspaper war.

Chris Bullivant, left, launched the paid-for Birmingham Press and Free Press weekly papers in spring 2010 but closed them in October that year with debts of more than £340,000.

The former Bullivant Media boss claims he was forced to close the papers because rival publisher Trinity Mirror undercut his advertising rates by charging £250 for property pages in both the Birmingham Mail and free stablemate Mail Extra.

Chris says this was £45 less than his “break even” price of £295 for a page in the Free Press, and claims it was £140 less than the £390 charged for Mail property pages before the Press launched.

The entrepreneur had attempted to get the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to look into the matter, but it informed him at the end of last year that there will be no investigation.

Chris, who is still a director of Bullivant Media Ltd, publishers of the Coventry Observer and other Midlands weeklies said: “I believe Trinity Mirror made loss leaders of the Mail’s property pages to ensure estate agents did not advertise in the Press.

“I provided full details of this alleged anti-competitiveness to the government and, interestingly, now understand the Mail’s advertising prices have returned to what they were before the Press launched.”

The OFT, which was replaced by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in April this year, told Mr Bullivant it had decided not to investigate because of “administrative priorities”. In a letter, it said an investigation would be “resource intensive” and, in its view, “unlikely to generate significant benefits for consumers”.

Said Chris: “This is outrageously unfair, as the Press affected hundreds of thousands of consumers – Birmingham readers and advertisers. Many contractors, journalists and me, the publisher, all lost money when it closed.

“When I launched the Press, I always said that if it failed it would be my Waterloo, but I did not know the opposition would have Challenger tanks at their disposal – courtesy of the government’s inaction.”

A spokesman for the CMA said: “We are unable to comment on OFT decisions, but if new evidence is brought to light we will, of course, consider it.”

A Trinity Mirror spokesperson said: “We’re not making any comment.”

The Birmingham Press, closed by Chris Bullivant in 2010.

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  • June 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Bullivant trying to make the Post and Mail out as the villains here is a bit rich. What exactly did he expect the competition to do when he set up his newspaper and tried to take advertising?

    If people want someone to blame for losing money as a result of the Press, they should blame Bullivant himself. He describes it as always knowing it would be his Waterloo – I hope he made sure every supplier, employee and investor in his Waterloo knew just how risky it was when he started out. To launch a newspaper which was going to live or die based on estate agents’ whims is just foolish.

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