Monday, May 31, 2010

Classifieds move from print to online to mobile; watch for developers to seize the opportunity to move in

I hope your Memorial Day is a pleasant one. I have written a couple of posts for today that look at a couple mobile/tablet media apps that were released late Friday (see Newsweek post below). Normal reporting will resume on Tuesday.

My first real management job in the newspaper business was as classified sales manager, leading my teams of inside and outside salespeople. In the eighties newspapers still dominated classified advertising but already realtors were beginning to produce their own publications, and auto traders were nipping away at our automotive lineage.

The greatest frustration I faced as a CAM was convincing management that we shouldn't be complacent. It was hopeless, and eventually I moved on to McGraw-Hill and into trade publishing.
Today, most people associate help-wanted advertising with and CareerBuilder, real estate listings reside with and local publications and websites, personal property and miscellaneous categories are dominated by Craig's List, and the auto category seems to be spread out everywhere -- including newspapers in many markets.

Mobile presents, therefore, a threat to not only the newspapers who still have a sliver of the classified market, but also the online companies that have arisen in the last couple of decades. The opportunity to aggregate online information into new mobile forms also presents developers (as well as publishers that transform their companies into app development machines) with the opportunity to enter and dominate the market.

As of today there are dozens of dedicated real estate apps for smartphones (mostly the iPhone), the vast majority of them coming from the new online players in the space: Zillow,, and the like. The New York Times is one of the few newspaper companies to jump into the space with their own app.

From smartphones to tablets

One of the companies that early on saw the value to moving into mobile was web-based Zip Realty, headquartered in the Bay Area. Their iPhone application uses maps and A.R. to produce a more interactive tool for buying and selling a home.

This last week Zip Realty updated their app and now the app is universal so that iPad owners can use take advantage. Without a camera, the tablet version can not use this feature, but the added display size is a big advantage when trying to judge the attractiveness of a property.

This is one reason why the tablet may serve a different function in the real estate segment than the smartphone. An iPhone can be carried around, and when the customer finds a property for sale quickly open an app on their phone and get additional information -- not only about the property for sale, but also about comps, schools, etc.

A tablet, on the other hand, is a perfect browsing tool -- like your Sunday newspaper, I suppose, but with more listings, more pictures, more information.
Because of this, the few apps that have launched for the iPad in the real estate category have been more like real estate magazines (with the exception of the Zillow and Zip apps). In facet, some have been just that -- real estate magazines such as Atlanta Homes & Lifestyle from PixelMags, Angeleno Interiors, the Modern Luxury Media title developed by Blue Toad, etc.

One that is both a functional real estate tool and a magazine was the Propriétés de France app released on Friday by Aden Classifieds, a leading online classified company from France. Their dedicated iPad app takes advantage of the added real estate (sorry for the pun) afforded by the tablet display to present properties in a grand style.
In fact, this is one app where the screenshots I took are not as attractive as the ones the company uses in iTunes -- after all, when you can show beautiful properties along the Mediterranean and in the Alpes there is no reason to submit boring screenshots to Apple.

Classified advertising used to be the lifeblood of most newspapers -- and it certainly was when I was a CAM. The loss of the classified, in my opinion, has had a far bigger impact on modern newspapers than all the content aggregation and other online developers of the past decade, though you simply can't tell that to all the journalism gurus out there that insist its all about content.

The opportunity to win classified advertising back to newspapers was lost years ago, if there ever was that chance to begin with. The opportunity to be a player in classified advertising, though, exists whenever new mediums are created by technology. The smartphone and tablet markets are just evolving now and both established and new companies will compete in the space.