News aggregator Topix.net has quietly added a free classifieds feature to its site. The tool, which echoes that offered by a variety of players, most notably Craigslist, first appeared on the site around a month ago.
At the moment, about 300 listings are being added each day, said Chris Tolles, VP of marketing at Topix.net. “It’s nothing to write home about,” he admitted, comparing the classifieds section to the site’s locally-based forums which garner about 8,000 posts each day. Tolles pointed to the company’s intentions to syndicate these forum postings through partner sites, saying he expects the classifieds to follow a similar trajectory.
Though the classifieds are being offered free initially, the company expects to begin monetizing the service with ads as time goes on.
The classified listings appear only on local news pages when users search for stories by ZIP code or locale. Unlike other online newspaper sites, which use classifieds aggregation systems provided by third parties such as Oodle and job listings compiler Indeed, Topix.net developed its own system in-house to enable creation and delivery of free listings. The Topix.net system features only listings submitted by users and does not include listings from other classified sites. The system allows users to display photos with the listings that appear in pop-up windows.
Google’s contextually-targeted AdSense ads accompany Topix.net’s classified listings and other content. Although the classifieds are currently only targeted by geographical location, Tolles expects that they might be organized by vertical category in the future.
When the system has enough listings, Topix.net plans on pushing them out to publisher partner sites. The site’s investors, newspaper publishing houses Gannett Co., Knight-Ridder and Tribune Company, “will be the first folks we integrate with” for syndication, he continued. Each of the three firms owns a 25 percent stake in Topix.net.
“We designed [the classifieds system] to enable people to be able to syndicate this,” noted Tolles, who said 20,000 Web affiliates feature Topix.net’s automated news headline feeds on their sites.
Tolles hopes to offer publisher partners a cut of the classified ad revenue once Topix.net develops related paid ad products.
“We’d like to have a product that we actually pay [syndication partners] to use,” explained Tolles. The firm’s three publisher investors have also invested in other online classifieds sites such as Apartments.com, CareerBuilder, Cars.com, Homescape.com and ShopLocal.
Online newspaper publishers have found themselves at odds with free Web listings services like Craigslist or Google Base because they’ve been known to siphon paying classifieds advertisers away from online and print newspapers that rely on that ad revenue. In part to compete with free listings services, The Washington Post Company’s D.C.-area metro site Express enables free and paid listings through Oodle’s technology.
“We are looking at the monetization very, very closely,” stressed Tolles, adding that once the system is more populated, there will be “a way to make money downstream.”