Thomson: Life After Newspapers, Up Value Chain

Thomson President and CEO Richard Harrington opened his keynote at SIIA’s Summit in New York Jan.31 by noting that Consultant Lee Greenhouse praised him as “the best newspaper guy I know. You got out of it.”

Indeed, Thomson bailed out of the newspaper industry in 2000, selling 150 daily and community papers at a peak price of $3.5 billion. “In 2000, newspapers were going into a seven year cycle,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll come out of it. But people aren’t betting on it.”

The sale was accompanied by the sale of Thomson’s travel business. Summing up the divestiture of two core businesses, Harrington noted: “We did not see how they would be sustainable businesses. We chose to go after high-end knowledge workers.”

Today, Thomson is the second largest information company (after Reed Elsevier) with 2005 revenues estimated by Outsell Inc. at $8.81 billion – more than $2.58 billion bigger than Gannett. More than 70 percent of its revenues come from electronic services. More than half are on the service side.

Craigslist CEO: We’re No eBay Front

Let the conspiracy theorists have their day. Craigslist is going to continue to do things in its own merry way. It doesn’t expect to step up its activity with minority owner eBay, it isn’t worried about competition, and it isn’t especially embarrassed about its hard-to- search, thin-featured, plain-vanilla technology. All of this according to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, speaking Feb. 1 at the SIIA Summit in New York.

Buckmaster painted a picture of a company that is focused on reaching as many markets as possible and as quickly as possible – while broadening its demographics, which started with “20-30 somethings, but is now skewing older, with lots of users in 40s, 50s, even 60s.” Next up is the targeting of dozens of smaller markets.

While most of the site is free, and will remain so, Craigslist is charging $75 for recruitment ads in the Bay Area, where it has a dominant position. Buckmaster scoffs, however, at former SF Gate GM Bob Cauthorn’s SWAG that Craig has “sucked $50 million” out of the market, mostly at the expense of The San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate. “It sounds high to me,” he said.

Google’s Ad Chief Talks Up Local

If there were any doubts that Google is dead serious about local, those doubts were dissipated by VP of Advertising Sales Tim Armstrong during a Feb. 1 keynote address to the Software and Information Industry Association’s Summit in New York.

Until recently, local “has been a big challenge,” said Armstrong. But now, “it is probably one of the areas that is going to grow the fastest.”

Armstrong believes that local’s growth is likely to manifest itself in numerous ways. Just 170 terabytes of 5 million possible terabytes have been catalogued. Local stores, for instance, could be catalogued in terms of “physical stores,” “in-store mapping,” “co-op advertising,” and “inventory.” “Users want access to assets,” he said.

Borrell Survey: Focus on Local Video

In the many unsettled areas of new media, including local, the questions can sometimes be more interesting than the answers. This is especially the case in the new executive survey by our friends at Borrell Associates.

This round, the latest in a continuing series, focuses largely on the potential of online video advertising by TV stations and other local media channels – something that I think is often overstated by Borrell, but cannot be counted out. One question, for instance, postulates that “Virtual tours of stores, restaurants and other advertisers using streaming video become the preferred format for local TV website ads.”

Real Cities Revenue Up 50%

Real Cities, the national network run by Knight Ridder, has lost several key members of its executive team in recent months. That’s almost always a bad sign, especially given all the other problems that Knight Ridder faces. The network is also facing competition from Centro and others that smell an opportunity to simplify local buys for national advertisers.

But things may not be as bad as they look. In fact, Knight Ridder claims that Real Cities revenue is up more than 50 percent in the last year. Part of this is due to a general boom in national advertising in newspapers – some of which trickles down online. It is also attributable to a 25 percent boost in reach, with major sites like The Houston Chronicle newly coming on board in 2005.

How does the rise of Real Cities’ fortunes translate to its affiliates? An online publisher at one of affiliates told The Local Onliner that “Real Cities is a useful network, but we’re certainly not seeing 50 percent growth from that relationship.” Translation: We’ll hang in there until something better comes along.

How Real is WiFi for Local Ads?

There’s been speculation that free WiFi would be used by Google and others as a carrot to target users and seize the local advertising market. That’s hard to do under any circumstances. But assuming that all the stars align, how attractive can WiFi be as a targeted, local delivery medium?

It can be “very attractive,” according to Nitin J. Shah, Executive Vice President of Feeva Technology, a San Francisco-based software company focused on WiFi ad targeting.

Shah is the first to concede the real limitations of WiFi technology. But he argues that WiFi’s adoption in laptops, PDAs and cellphones, combined with the rapid proliferation of free WiFi hotspots, “clouds” and “zones,” creates real opportunities for local advertisers and other geo-targeters.

IYP/Search Case Study: Morris Communications

Morris Communications is well known within the newspaper industry for being a highly entrepreneurial media company, especially in its pursuit of new, Internet-based revenues. In the summer of 2004, Morris launched Yellow Advantage, a hybrid of online search and Yellow Pages products. Yellow Advantage is branded as “a new breed of Yellow Pages.”

Since its launch, Yellow Advantage, or a similarly-branded product, has been introduced in 20 Morris markets, ranging from Ardmore, OK (circulation 10,800), to Jacksonville, FLA (circulation 167,229). It is powered by Interchange, which provides the search technology, licenses the listings, and supplements Morris’ local advertisers with an extensive network of national advertisers. (Disclosure: Krasilovsky Consulting provides strategic consulting to Interchange).

Revenues from Yellow Advantage aren’t critical to Morris’ bottom line today, although it has a positive return on investment. Strategically, it plays a more important role. It helps defend the papers from increasingly local-oriented search engines and Yellow Pages. At the same time, it extends the range of newspaper advertising to existing advertisers, and reaches out to small business customers that don’t normally advertise in the newspapers (or their websites).