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The Story of the Week: Classifieds

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The week's really been about classifieds. It might have been about Google and YouTube or even Iran, Bush, Blair, Bertie or bungs but it's definitely been about classifieds and classifieds are what will change our lives.

What's currently protecting newspapers from rapid decline – in fact what's keeping newspapers buoyed – is the fact that the majority of businesses are not yet online. That means they're not yet part of the online classifieds mix. That means the media industries are not changing fast enough which in turn is reflected in the small revenue potential, as yet, for the blogger, the podcaster, the vidcaster and the small web publisher — even one called YouTube.

Online classifieds have the potential to decimate newspaper earnings but not for as long as businesses are not online.

Add in another curious fact. For the most part online ads to date have taken the wrong approach. Take job ads, which have simply emulated the newspaper experience of paid-for ads but with a few fringe benefits.

They emphasise ease of use by the advertising company. Getting ads close to an appropriate audience for example, giving access to a return on investment analysis, being able to search online CVs. All very well, but in a market tight for talent, it should be geared towards the job seekers' experience.

Charlene Li pointed out a year ago now that Yahoo and Hotjobs are rethinking the strategy. Under pressure from sites that aggregate all job listings, Yahoo now crawls company websites and "scrapes" their job ads to add to its own paid-for classifieds.

Similarly Edgeio and Eventful are scraping ads from around the globe and providing a one-stop search platform for seekers of jobs, cars, houses, and venues.

Yahoo's jobs ads strategy for the past year has been to facilitate job seekers' searches and spin revenue from the search process than charging for job ads. That kind of strategy is going to hurt newspapers as they take their businesses online because it puts an upper limit on the price of a job ad.

New ideas about small ads, and ideas for getting some kind of web presence, any kind of web presence, for the majority of businesses were part of the story of the week.

Jobneters launched its post-beta job referral site. On Jobneters the idea is to create a word of mouth referral system that highlights talented job seekers – the system works by paying referrers (the gossips) who contribute to a candidate's profile, if the candidate is hired. Won't that influence people to leave false praise? No, the recruitment business works through word of mouth anyway.

SmallTown has meanwhile launched its webcard business, allowing small businesses to fill in a simple "webcard" and get immediate web presence. They call it building the local web. CityVoter has a different tactic aimed at the same target.

Local television station websites in the USA will be hosting local “best of” contests developed by CityVoter, a company that enables local residents to nominate local businesses for prizes in up to 90 categories.

CityVoter is a strategy as well as a company. They use vote-for competitions to drive businesses to the web. The idea is to stage competitions that force/encourage a business to upload a few photographs to the local city voter media partner site and if not, to get local residents to put details up there anyway. It's an ultimate user-generated content play.

At the same time Microsoft is getting ready to launch a mobile ads service — presumably with a view long term to the local classifieds market.

It was also a week in which these issues came into the blogging community. Scott Karp argues that the next generation of media may simply not be as profitable as media industries traditionally have been. We're looking instead at an era where the gross cost of advertising to industry radically declines.

Why will it benefit most people? Because in the rush to reduce the cost of advertising it is the blogger, vidcaster, and podcaster with a small audience that can afford to downscale fastest and furthest. Even as news media scramble to pick up free material from bloggers and TV stations hook into user-generated content, they know that their ultimate liability is their overhead, their offices, hierarchies, bureaus, pensions, expenses, and an immovable sense of being entitled to their historic privileges.

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