Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apple adds New Home section to App Store; promotes RE apps from service companies as well as publishers

As a former classified advertising manager (CAM) I cringe every Sunday when the Chicago Tribune hits out driveway. The once massive help-wanted section is now a couple pages stuck in the back of the Business section. Real estate, too, has suffered, as much from the economy as from media fragmentation, but it, too, is not what it once was.

Sadly, the loss of real estate advertising within the newspaper industry comes at a time when newspapers, if creative, could become relevant again to realtors. With the explosive growth of both mobile and tablet publishing, realtors will need to find ways to gain access to these new devices, either through their own apps, through new media apps from Realtor.com and national real estate companies, or through local apps, created by whoever is smart and skilled enough to create them.

The Apple App Store's
New Home section.

Apple today revealed their own real estate section of sorts. The App Store's "New Home" section is mostly a way to help organize and promote real estate apps that are already in the App Store, attempting to keep them from getting lost in the thousands of apps there.

"New Home" to Apple, of course, doesn't mean new construction, it simply means "real estate" as many of the apps there are from familiar faces such as Realtor.com, Zillow and Coldwell Banker.

Apple has organized the area into three categories: Finding Your Home Build & Decorate, and Tools for Living.
There are a couple apps from publishers to be found here: the Wall Street Journal has its WSJ House of the Day app here, an app that is a voyeuristic look at gaudy homes for the super wealthy; and Martha Stewart Living Magazine for iPad is here, as well, though the app still does not offer subscriptions and the app has proved to be buggy.

Both apps, interestingly, are probably miscategorized: the WSJ app is under Build & Decorate, while the Martha Stewart app is under Tools for Living, when it really about decoration – proving once again that Apple is rather stubborn about not bringing into the company those who are at all familiar with dealing with media.

While mobile and tablets are presenting newspaper publishers with a golden opportunity to rejuvenate their real estate business, I can think of three serious obstacles to newspapers becoming serious players in their space.

First, many newspapers have lost contact with their customers over the years as the real estate business declined in their papers. When I worked as a CAM in the Los Angeles area, and again in the Bay Area, attending real estate meetings, and making sure my local Coldwell Banker marketing people were happy was a full time job. I remember fighting off other CAMs because the regional Coldwell Banker office was in my territory and remember taking a huge gamble by having a meeting with others in the newspaper company with the client and asking the client directly who they wanted to have handle their account (luckily they were very happy with us).

Second, the decision by many publishers to outsource app development means that they can not create new apps in a timely fashion, and on their own timetables. Like the Sun Times, which has decided to outsource its printing to the Tribune Company, not having complete control over production means one is severely handicapped.

Finally, with media gurus advocating for publishers to stay away from anything to do with Apple, and pooh poohing the iPad as a useless toy, the reality is that too many publishers are listening to voices that want to keep them locked into outdated publishing strategies. I admit that I remain in a minority, I simply don't see mobile and tablets going away. But sadly the denialists are in ascendancy, clearly the iPad is a failure, and tablets will go the way of the Internet. Oh, wait a minute . . .

While a couple of newspapers have launched mobile or tablet real estate products, none seem committed to them. The New York Times app for the iPhone was one of the first, but the app has not been updated since October of last year, and complaints are still be written about crashes and searches (though these may have been fixed by now).
NYTimes Real Estate, though, does touch a bit on a point of differentiation that could help newspaper apps succeed.

Our application combines award-winning New York Times Real Estate articles with in-depth property search tools designed to surface listing details for the most desirable properties on the market.

While I would say that strong editorial would be more useful in a tablet app than a mobile app, this is, nonetheless, one area newspapers are at an advantage.

The NYT mobile app also includes other features that are useful such as local school information, sales information, etc. The phone app also smartly uses maps so that buyers can find homes nearby – though a look at the app this morning reveal very few listings, making on wonder if appearing on the map is an upcharge.