Merchant Circle Seeks to Provide YP Alternative

“Small business,” “marketing tools” and “viral marketing” = a new generation of Yellow Pages that will really help businesses get more local customers. Or so hopes Merchant Circle, a well-funded startup that officially launches in June.

Like a blogroll, small businesses add other small businesses from their community to their network, trade ads, and get mutual attention from local consumers – hence the “Merchant Circle” name. Other features on the current, pre-beta version have been more come-and-go.

President and CEO Ben Smith, a Rustic Canyon entrepreneur in residence (who co-founded Spoke Software with Chris Tolles of Topix), told Local Onliner that everything’s in flux prior to the June launch. “It is all about testing. It is not close to being done. We are constantly revising. There is lots of new stuff coming for launch in June and then a second wave in late June.” But some basic goals have been established. “The milestone here is to get 20 percent of merchants” in a community, said Smith.

$5.8 Billion in Local Revs Projected for 2006

My friends (and former colleagues) at Borrell Associates are out with their fourth annual survey of local online revenues. As usual, the survey is a data goldmine, based on confidential reporting from 2,266 local sites- a very impressive count. Borrell found that local online revenues were $4.8 billion in 2005. For 2006, they’re projected to surpass $5.8 billion in 2006.

Borrell indicates that a perfect storm has kicked local up a notch. Traditional media companies have accelerated their efforts on the Web; the portals have ramped up their local initiatives; thousands of entrepreneurs are selling local advertising; and there is a natural migration of local advertisers, who are finally accepting the Web as part of their marketing plans. “It is no longer a case of artificial upselling,” says Borrell.

Major trends include a jump in local search revenues from five to nine percent, and the rise of targeted advertising, including paid search, lead generation, directories and classifieds. Display ads such as banners and popups are down to just 14 percent of revenues.

McClatchy Takes (Some of) KR

McClatchy won its bid for Knight Ridder. But KR fits into McClatchy’s plans less as a traditional newspaper company, than as part of a long-term transition to direct marketing, with the news playing an increasingly smaller role. The Internet, however, looms ever larger.

McClatchy’s leadership is secure and unsentimental. It doesn’t place a premium on ‘size for size’ sake. Instead, it hopes to re-impress Wall Street with fast growth across multiple channels, including print, the Web, direct mail –and possibly directories.

As The New York Times noted in its coverage, “the average rate of household growth for the dozen papers that McClatchy plans to divest is 4.8 percent for the next five years; for the 20 papers the company would keep, the growth rate is 11.1 percent. Including the 11.9 percent growth rate of the current 12 McClatchy papers, the new company’s papers will have an average household growth rate of 11.4 percent.”

The Impact of AT&T/BellSouth on YP

AT&T and BellSouth is a $67 billion telecom rollup, but local advertising is involved too. The telcos’ respective Yellow Pages will be impacted by the rollup, as well as their ties with Yahoo, vendors and the Yellow Pages trade associations.

For starters, the deal makes the selloff/spinoff of the Yellow Pages units all-but-inevitable. The telcos needs tens of billions to install fiber-to-the-curb for IPTV, and it has made sense to sell off the YPs to produce some of the revenue. But this seals the deal.

As for side effects of the deal, some fallout is likely at Yahoo. Both companies sell for Yahoo Yellow Pages and Yahoo Local. And in return, Yahoo doesn’t sell against them. But maybe the arrangement has run its course.

Tribune-KR-Gannett: After Knight Ridder

Everybody knows Knight Ridder is “over,” as a former executive recently put it to me. But what does that mean to “TKG,” Tribune, Knight Ridder and Gannett’s joint venture to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into CareerBuilder, a successful recruitment portal; ShopLocal, a fast-growing but jury’s still-out online inserts and sales portal; and Topix, an online news sorter that is cutting edge but commercially undeveloped.

Also at stake, but more peripherally, are Knight Ridder’s 1/6 role in Classified Ventures, which produces, Homescape and, and recently purchased HomeGain. It also holds a minority share in Tribe Nets, a social network that is experimenting with games but is a probable write-off.

If Knight Ridder is sold, TKG has change of control provisions in place that could provide allow the other partners to buy CareerBuilder and the other online properties under their market value. If Gannett is the buyer, it would be a relatively seamless change, although Gannett would become a very dominant part of the consortia, to the discomfort of Tribune. If McClatchy is the buyer or a venture firm, it isn’t as clear. One assumes that McClatchy or other buyers would maintain the CareerBuilder affiliation, but might not participate as partners.

Daily Candy Tempts Local Media Companies

Daily Candy, the fashion-and-trends newsletter with local editions in eight markets and copy right out of “Sex and The City,” is on the block for $100 million. The value seems high, but its young, trendy, female readership could be a good fit with media companies like Fox or IAC that want to hit the local marketplace in non-traditional, non-journalistic formats.

Our guess is that it would be less of a fit with strait-laced, sales-oriented sites like ShopLocal; online Yellow Pages like Verizon SuperPages that are trying to create a retail connection; or the increasing number of newspapers that have developed online shopping verticals. But that’s ok. The latter, especially, would balk at the price, and the journalism.

Daily Candy was started in New York in 2000. After receiving a $3.5 million cash infusion from former AOL President Bob Pittman in 2003, the site has now expanded to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and starting in March, Atlanta.