Bye-bye Classifieds?

Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine has an interesting debate brewing over the evolution and future of classifieds, in light of recent deals between Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, and various Web classifieds partners. Jarvis, not surprising, seems to think this is another nail in the classifieds coffin for newspapers. Once they’re distributed, “no longer in a centralized marketplace,” he writes, “techology brings them together.”

He calls the post “Bye-bye classifieds.” (Sorry, whenever I think of a white-haired guy saying, “bye-bye” all I can think of is The McLauglin Group.)

OK, thing is, there are systems that already aggregate classifieds (like Oodle and Indeed, for instance). Plus, classifieds are already becoming decentralized through widgets that enable people to create a custom set of listings for their own sites. Oh, and don’t forget about Yahoo’s wish to have all paper classifieds in its database through strategic partnerships. So, I’m not sure if Jarvis is envisioning something more robust, or what.

And one large question looms: who’s going to sell the classifieds? All the distribution partner sites? Google? Yahoo? Surely demand for these types of ads will continue when it comes to certain advertisers, even on freebie classifieds sites (advertisers in pricey real estate markets, jobs).

Yes, there may be a handful of giant aggregators, but won’t they want to work with the local media properties that have the relationships with local advertisers? (It’s why Yahoo is aligning with newspaper publishers).

There’s no question that newspapers classifieds dollars are dwindling and they need to devise new revenue streams. Still, when I covered the convergence of social sites and classifieds recently, my initial reaction was, “Hey, newspapers are starting to incorporate social tools on their own sites now (CGM video and photo uploads, blogs, user profiles, community event tools, etc.). Won’t they eventually, if they’re smart, start distributing paid and free listings in a contextual manner rather than in some main “Find Jobs” site area? Or maybe in addition to those centralized spots on the sites? “If I’m not mistaken, this is on the agenda at The Bakersfield Californian.

Yes, search — and free listings services — are cutting into traditional classifieds revenue, but with firms like Google and Yahoo setting up new divisions to help newspapers devise new revenue streams, and create new listings models, I don’t see these things going away soon, nor do I think the future of this stuff is so clear.

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