TorStar Goes With LiveDeal for Local Auctions

For a short time, eBay experimented with a Local Trading unit, which specialized in autos, sofas and other things “too heavy to ship.” But in 2001, it closed down the unit, which didn’t fit into its plans for eBay Autos, greater transaction fees, etc. By doing so, eBay took the chance that it would be left vulnerable to competitors filling the void.

Sure enough, jump to 2005, and a flurry of companies are ready to take advantage of the increasingly clear relationship between local auctions, classifieds and transactions. One of them is Santa Clara-based LiveDeal.

Launched by a former eBay engineer in 2003, the 25-person company lists 200,000 items for sale every day, and gets about 500,000 unique viewers a month. LiveDeal’s big news this month is that it has landed $4.8 million in financing, including $3 million from TorStar, the progressive publisher of The Toronto Star and dozens of smaller community and daily papers in Ontario. Other investors in this round include Draper Richards, a VC firm, and individual Silicon Valley investors.

We had the opportunity to talk with Vice President of Development Steve Harmon about the company’s progress. Details from the conversation, and more background, continues below.

Jupiter Forecast: Local $ Grows, But Disappoints

Local advertisers have discovered the Internet and will boost their advertising 26 percent to reach $3.2 billion this year. But after that, they’ll grow just 11 percent per year through 2010, reaching $5.3 billion, according to a new Jupiter Research report, “US Local Online Advertising Forecast, 2005 to 2010.”

According to Jupiter’s analysts, local advertising will fall short in its transition to the Net, as most local businesses will be slow to jump online. Instead, local online advertising will remain centered on national firms targeting on a localized basis.

Why? The portals won’t invest in local sales forces, and existing local advertisers see better leads coming from word of mouth, magazines, trade shows and other offline marketing tactics. “They are just beginning to build databases of email addresses,” notes Jupiter.

Diller Talks Up CitySearch

IAC/Interactive Corp. Chairman Barry Diller generally downplays CitySearch during analyst calls, preferring to focus on brighter stories among IAC’s portfolio of companies, such as TicketMaster, Lending Tree and until recently, Expedia.

But at a Goldman Sachs’ investor conference on Sept. 22, Diller surprisingly devoted more time to CitySearch than IAC’s other companies. He noted that CitySearch is now operating in the black, and has seen a rise in monthly unique users from eight million in 2003 to 23 million today.

Diller’s positive comments reinforce outward confidence in the division by IAC, including its recent move to the new IAC west coast headquarters in West Hollywood, and its recruitment of high level executives to work under CEO Briggs Ferguson.

eBay and Skype: The Classifieds Factor

Some analysts haven’t figured out Skype’s value to eBay. But I see it fairly plainly: classifieds. The classifieds industry appears to be on the verge of a freefall, due to services such as Craig’s List that don’t charge But with Skype in the picture, I see lots of “value add” that buyers and sellers would happily pay for.

Using Skype, which integrates Voice over IP phone and instant messaging, the unadorned text ads may still run free. But Skype potentially adds a lot of value by directly connecting sellers to buyers via Pay-Per-Call, while sending them more in-depth information at the same time.

The integration of Skype also helps close the loop in the transaction cycle. Currently, eBay transmits five million emails a day between its buyers and sellers, mostly for expensive goods like real estate or autos that are “involved” and “complex.” Skype’s instant messaging, voice mail and voice call services are likely to increase the volume of such communications, and also make them more universal.

IAC Moves into Real Estate Brokerages

Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive is saying that it intends to become a full service Real Estate provider next year, operating brokerages in the Pacific Northwest.

The announcement might be seen as a strange one, since IAC hasn’t settled on whether it will buy or build the brokerages. But it hints at IAC’s wide ranging ambitions in Real Estate, where it already owns Lendingtree.com, which shops for the cheapest mortgage; and RealEstate.com, which provides leads to Realtors in exchange for “soft” consumer kickbacks and a piece of the action.

For IAC, the move into owning brokerages would theoretically complete its Real Estate loop, at least to the extent permissible under today’s regulations, which prevent banks from directly participating in sales.