of California newspapers teamed up to combine their classified ad sales efforts
in a bid to compete with eBay and Craigslist.
More than 100 Golden State
papers are now part of the Classified Ad Network, backed by the California
Newspaper Publishers Association and software vendor Verican Inc.
“After following Google,
Yahoo, Craigslist, etc., we found that the market for pure online publishing was
saturated,” said Eric Buskirk, chief executive officer and founder of Verican,
who started the company after years of working as an independent contractor
integrating financial systems such as Oracle and SAP. “[But] the pure Internet
plays will never be able to match the value local reporters and sales
representatives provide by living and working in the local community. Newspapers
can cooperate to leverage their branding and credibility for a combined print
and online platform, which is why we partnered with the California Newspaper
Publishers Association to build the Classified Ad Network.”
The Sonoma Index-Tribune’s online classifieds
are hooked into the Verican-powered classifieds network. The classifieds are
displayed by geographic relevance, with locally sourced classifieds showing
first, and then expanding outward.
The network’s rationale is
simple: Since newspapers already take the output from print classifieds software
and output it to their Web sites (and sometimes in the other direction as well,
using reverse publishing), exporting that same data across new external networks
is a natural progression.
Ready to go
CAN formally launched earlier
this year after a year of beta testing and fine-tuning. For now, it offers
classified ads, but CAN will be enhanced to include content such as headlines
and calendar events later this year, Buskirk said.
Efforts like CAN are
critical, especially as rapidly expanding companies such as Google and Yahoo
obscure the lines between content creation and content carriage.
“[Companies like Google and
Yahoo] directly service and brand themselves to readers and advertisers,”
Buskirk said. “We frequently warn our customers of this blatant conflict of
“In just a few years Google
has grown to a market capitalization exceeding $100 billion. Don’t be surprised
if Google turns on the industry after luring readers and advertisers of the
newspapers,” he said.
One California paper hoping
to reap benefits from CAN is the Sonoma Index-Tribune. The publication
originally used TownNews’ classified software, but converted to Verican’s app,
believing it to be a better and more customer-friendly product, according to
Publisher Bill Lynch.
CAN was appealing because of
the continuing entrenchment by online-only competitors, especially in tech-savvy
“Putting something on eBay
and getting people to bid on it is, for many folks, more attractive than simply
selling something in a newspaper classified, taking phone calls and having
people come to your house,” Lynch said.
Lynch calls the
Index-Tribune’s classified Web site a hybrid, because of the order in which
classifieds are displayed. In each category, locally sourced ads are displayed
first, followed by the networked ads in each category listed in order of
geographic proximity to the Index-Tribune’s local market. All liner classified
ads are automatically placed in the network.
Various methods supported
To physically move the data,
a variety of methods are supported. Interfaces are currently available for
common newspaper classifieds front-ends, including those sold by Mactive,
Mediaspan, CAMS, Digital Technology International, Advanced Publishing
Technology and Publishing Business Systems. The upload process is typically
identical to the procedure a newspaper uses to publish ads online and can be
accomplished through FTP, manual upload from a secure administration page, or
even copied and pasted if the newspaper does not have a front-end system in
“More than 60 percent of our
classified private-party ads are ordered online,” Lynch said. “We tell our
customers that their purchase includes the benefit of the network.”
The Index-Tribune also uses
the Verican software for online pricing and intake of classified ads in a Web
browser. The paper is working with Verican to develop a new browser-based
self-service display ad order system that is currently in a test phase in the
Real Estate Open House section.
Once the tests are complete,
the newspaper plans to expand it to use for ROP advertising.
Lynch has high hopes for
expanding the reach of CAN, even beyond state borders.
“If newspapers would work
together, the database of ads that they could create would be huge - larger than
Craigslist,” he said. “It would have the added benefit of print publishing and
“Our idea was to start with
California newspapers through the CNPA and then branch out to other states until
we had a nationwide network all made up of newspapers, with access to the system
only through participating newspapers,” he said. “This would be a
‘newspaper-owned, newspaper-customer-only’ type of product. You cannot place an
ad on the network directly, except through a host newspaper’s Web site - there
is no ‘online only’ option.”
Verican’s pricing model is
based largely on revenue share - typically around 6 percent for classifieds,
depending on which components are used. More software modules are planned for
the future, and currently consist of classifieds, recruitment and personals.
Module releases scheduled for later in 2006 include news, calendar, real estate
and yellow pages.
“Essentially, we envision the
Classified Ad Network becoming for newspapers what Visa is for banks,” Buskirk
said. “A shared network, which derives significant value for its
To that end, Verican recently
signed an agreement with the Arizona Newspaper Association to begin a classified
ad network in the Grand Canyon state.
CAN may also soon find
competition. Bob Cauthorn, former Internet director at sfgate.com, is planning
to launch a similar classified and content sharing network called CityTools,
according to a report by consultant Classified Intelligence.