Unused Potential in Online Classified Ads

Dramatic gaps exist between the classified offerings of large newspaper publishers, smaller publishers and online-only players, suggesting that newspapers are missing the opportunity to use audio, video and other technologies. That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted at the University of Missouri’s graduate school of journalism.

The research paper, “Interactivity and Vividness in U.S. Newspapers’ Online Classified Ads,” was written by graduate student Sarah Farebrother and assistant professor of journalism Shelly Rodgers. Farebrother evaluated the automotive, employment and real estate classifieds at 24 online newspapers of various sizes, examining their interactive and rich media features.

The study states that while many newspapers have increased interactive and rich media features on their sites, “they appear to have gone after the low-hanging fruit, those features easiest to add,” Farebrother wrote. None of the newspapers studied use audio clips; video clips are deployed by only 4.2 percent; audio/video clips are available on just 8.3 percent of sites, and an IM chat feature can be found on just 2.8 percent of newspaper classified sites. E-mail notification is another feature popular with online-only sites, yet missing from the majority of newspaper publishers.

When rich media was used in newspapers’ classifieds ads, it most often was in the real estate vertical. Three newspapers used advanced technologies for virtual tours, while another used rich media to highlight a local real estate agent. Two publishers included audio slide shows, in which photos of homes were accompanied by audio descriptions.

Though some hoped the Internet would reduce the cost barrier for large and small publishers to compete with each other, making the medium a “great equalizer,” this is not happening, the study suggests. Photos, animation, search functionality, and email or Web-based forms are often deployed on the verticals of larger papers.

The study notes the online newspapers must deal with constraints that aren’t faced by online-only classified sites. Newspapers rely on formats established by print editions, and need additional technologies to facilitate the publishing of both print and online versions.

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