By Molly Hulsey
Once the dominant buyer-seller exchange for communities, the familiar classified ad section of newspapers has shrunk precipitously as Monster.com, HotJobs.com, Cars.com and more went after key vertical markets. Then eBay, Craigslist and even Wal-Mart/Oodle took on general merchandise categories.
Jim Townsend, editorial director of the Advanced Interactive Media (AIM) Group (which publishes the Classified Intelligence Report), has more than 35 years of experience reporting media-industry trends. He outlined the state of digital classifieds for RJI Thursday morning.
Classifieds: A Brief History
Classified advertising had been a major revenue source of newspaper revenue for much of the last half of the last century: 40 percent of total ad revenue for many newspapers, as much as 80 percent for some.
In 2001, classifieds had their finest hour, topping out at around $19 billion in annual sales in the US.
Classifieds make just around $5 billion per year.
While classified ad sales are low in America, business is still booming in Europe, Asia and Africa. Why did things change here?
- Newspapers’ former advertisers can now post their own listings online.
- Those same former advertisers, since they have received little input from papers, have begun to learn on their own and innovate faster than newspapers.
- Newspapers are still trying to sell simple ads – lineage, impressions, eyeballs—when what they should be selling is service that helps sellers move stuff off the shelves. Sales, transactions, not views.
Newspapers have the tools to innovate sales:
Newspapers can provide social and mobile solutions, as well as training for SEO and SEM to local advertisers.
The businesses that advertise are still struggling to understand how to use and benefit from the new digital tools and opportunities – they have to do it themselves because papers haven’t been sharing their knowledge. It makes sense for a paper to approach them with help and training.
Where’s the innovation?
Innovation for classifieds of the future can be gleaned from augmented realities. (Aim your cellphone or tablet camera down the street and “for sale” items pop up over the home or business you’re pointing the camera at). These have been used by realtors (Homespotter) and by eBay classifieds (Junaio) to make classifieds interactive and convenient.
Innovation isn’t always about the newest and coolest technology. Sometimes the most brilliant thing we can do is adjust the way we work.
The most innovative companies combine some or all of these five factors to innovate:
- Mobile (for many AIM/CIR clients, 40% of classified ad business comes from mobile).
- Behaviorally targeted
Be a social success…
- Remember: it’s about participation, engagement and distribution.
- Craft at least one unique strategy for each vertical.
- Make sure your listings are easily redistributable
- Identify market segments and distribute accordingly
- Teach your advertisers about social media.