Free classifieds, neighborhood content and blogs enhance new commuter paper site.
The Washington Post Company's new Express site is the latest move by a newspaper publisher to stay above water as the classified ad tides turn. Expected to launch today, Express, the online component of the Post's free daily commuter paper by the same name, integrates its hyper-local community-driven content offerings with Oodle's classifieds search database. A national airline is set to sponsor a contest on the site in May.
"The changing classifieds landscape definitely had a lot to do with" the development of the new site, explained Liddy Manson, VP general manager of jobs, cars and real estate for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.
Oodle is licensing its API to Express so that it may display Oodle listings on the site and enable users to create both free and paid listings. During this soft launch which will last at least a couple of weeks, display ads will not be sold for placement on the Express site. Instead, advertisers who have purchased ads on WashingtonPost.com will have their campaigns extended to the Express site.
Unlike its Washingtonpost.com and Newsweek sites which reach national and international audiences, the publisher has designed Express to appeal to residents in the D.C. metro area. Developers of the site are banking on the notion that people living in specific neighborhoods will want to see content that pertains to those vicinities and the subway stations near them.
Content like theater, nightclub and restaurant listings and reviews are accessible according to the metro station they're near. A news-related daily polling feature will present results based on the metro line that respondents use in their daily commutes. When users click on a particular metro stop on a map generated using Google's API, the site will display blog posts related to the surrounding area, as well as information on local entertainment spots. Users can also request email notifications when new listings based on a pre-set search query are posted.
"This is very much an experiment," commented Chris Ma, publisher of Express and Washington Post Company VP. "It's premised on the belief that people who use the metro system to commute to school and work everyday and read Express on the subway have a lot in common. Their daily routines revolve around neighborhoods in close proximity to those metro stations."
According to Ma, the publisher hopes to get local retailers to buy neighborhood-targeted blog ads and display ads throughout the site. Blog offerings include "Free Ride," a local news blog linking to Washington Post stories and articles from other outlets, as well as "Window Shopper," a blog featuring quirky or particularly noteworthy listings in the classifieds database. The Post also plans to incorporate multimedia content into its blogs in the future. Select blog posts from the Express site will be included in the print edition. Express print launched in the summer of 2003.
A national airline company will sponsor a contest on the Express site in May, according to Sandy Yielding, director of marketing at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. Users will be provided with clues designed to lead them through various areas of the site. The winner will be awarded with a trip for two to London.
Users will be able to submit their own free Express listings for general merchandise, roommates, for-rent-by-owner apartments and tickets. Paid listings categories include cars, real estate, jobs and pets. Oodle obtains feeds from classifieds publishers such as Cars.com and CareerBuilder.com and crawls the Web to find relevant listings for its index, which already includes Washingtonpost.com's classifieds. Paying advertisers with listings in the Express or Washington Post print editions will automatically have their classifieds prioritized in Express results pages.
"There are still certain categories where we feel there's an opportunity to charge people for increased value," explained Manson. "If [an advertiser] is going to bypass us over price, they have a dozen different alternatives to do that with . We're not a low cost provider."
The publisher may not be a low cost provider but the truth is it's finding itself in competition with that very lot of free listings services, from Craigslist to classifieds search sites that compile listings from several sites like Indeed, and Google Base. Oodle also licenses its technology to Lycos and Backpage.com, a free classifieds service run by Village Voice Media.
Unlike similar services such as Google Base, users must visit Oodle partner sites to post free listings in its system, and can't do so on Oodle.com. "We're not in the business of [selling] advertising," commented Oodle CEO Craig Donato. "Our job is to help [publisher partners], not compete with them."
"Newspapers still continue to be the number one way of reaching local consumers," suggested Peter Krasilovsky, principal of local media consulting firm Krasilovsky Consulting, who added, "[Classifieds] aggregation is an acknowledgement that there are a lot of other sources out there." Krasilovsky believes that running classifieds on the new Express site will be good for advertisers because the publisher will be putting a lot of resources towards driving traffic to the site.
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