The yahoos and Yahoo

Today’s announcement of a big deal between Yahoo and a bunch of midlevel newspaper conglomerates has its benefits for both. But I can’t help but thinking that this is a meeting of old, old-media companies and the new, old-media company, Yahoo.

The benefits: The newspapers will get local functionality they need and new means of selling automated ads they don’t have and they will tame the beast they thought was a competitor. And Yahoo will get more content (can it ever get enough?).

But they’re both trying to maintain old businesses and old models.

Classified hasn’t just moved online; it’s dead as a category. Craig didn’t kill it. He was merely the first and smartest to see that the internet connects buyers and sellers directly. It massacres middlemen. And both newspapers and Yahoo still want to be middlemen. So the real challenge is to figure out how to enable transactions in new ways.

They talk a lot about content but in a linked world, the goal is not just to own more content but to create a new relationship to more of it: ‘We find the good stuff, wherever it is’ which used to be Yahoo’s goal and should be again — and must become the goal of newspapers as well.

They still operate on the media model of getting people to come into a centralized place and so the newspapers hope that people will go from Yahoo’s gathering point to theirs. Except everyone I know who has done a content deal with Yahoo finds that it is not terribly good at sending them traffic because Yahoo — like newspapers themselves — wants people to stay in its world.

Dean Singleton, one of the moguls in the deal and one of the smartest and toughest newspapermen alive, said this in The Times: “There has been a big question asked for a while as to how newspapers will navigate the online future. I think this is the answer to that question.” I sure hope he said more than that (and I’ll bet he did). For this is not the answer. Is it an answer? Maybe. Maybe not. The challenge is to find many answers and relying on a portal has proven to be an incomplete one. Ditto being a portal. The question is not, ‘How do we get enough stuff to get people to come to us?’ That is their old-media model. I think the question is, ‘How do we go to where the people are with what they need and how do we enable them to do what they want to do?’ That is what Google asks itself.

  • Jeff:
    Good analysis.
    So what’s a single, mid-sized, family owned newspaper supposed to do?
    Wait for Google to come back with its own version of this, and hope they’ll offer us a seat at the table?
    Or try to get the attention of Yahoo?
    Or something entirely different?
    Any thoughts?

  • Jeff, I don’t think you’ve thought this through, have all the details, or, more importantly, looked at Yahoo! Local recently.

    Furthermore, you’re treating this as “this is the only thing these newspaper companies are doing’ without acknowledging that this makes sense as a “one additional thing” to do. In a linked world, this is a good deal.

    There’s more to this. This is a smart thing. It’s good for both Yahoo! and the participating media companies.

    Also, classifieds are not dead. That is a GROSS overstatement and over simplification.

  • Jeff:

    You say that Craig Newmark has figured out that ” the internet connects buyers and sellers directly. It massacres middlemen.” But what is Craig’s List but a middleman, a medium for connecting buyers and sellers? Sellers go to CL to post ads; buyers go to CL to read ads. Sellers used to go to newspapers to post classified ads, and buyers used to go to newspapers to read classified ads. As wonderful as the internet is (and it’s undeniable that the web is eating newspapers’ lunch), all the websites I know of “still operate on the media model of getting people to come into a centralized place” when they’re really looking for something. Sure you find ads on Google, but that’s serendipitous — the unexpected result of a search, not an action by a motivated buyer.

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  • Ethan

    Hey Jeff,
    What about the Iraq War? Remember when you used to write about that? And then it goes bad and…no more.
    Who can take you seriously? Who are you to lecture other people? You take a grand stance on one of the most divisive and important issues of our time, and when things become complicated, you disappear. You seem like a picture in moral cowardice to me.

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  • Jeff—On the contrary, classifieds are not dead and gone, they are changing and in some markets newspapers still enjoy a huge advantage when it comes to listings. In real estate, for example, less than 20 percent of the listings market has moved online and local newspapers still hold a big lead. What they are missing out on is the other transactions around the buying or selling of a home, which is stil accessible to them if they move fast. You’re too busy trying to bury the past to recognize the changes are happening in a human scale that provides plenty of time for all players to react–not that they will do so successfully, but there’s no reason to paint the picture in black-and-white, as you do.

    What’s going on is far more interesting than the idea of zombies rising from the grave to try to drag everyone back down into the past with them. It’s evolutionary.

    I covered this in my blog today and in a recently published research report for The Kelsey Group.

  • Cards on table first; I’ve not proved anything yet. I’m only three months in to my grand adventure as a ‘stand-alone’ journalist.
    But three months in, for me, certain lessons are already apparent.
    Unique and trusted content is the king – punters flock to content they know, like, trust and can’t get anywhere else. And if you’re servicing a passionate, niche market with that content, they will read every spit, dot and comma. And, on average, stay on your site for anywhere up to nine minutes per visit. Cos they care about the content.
    And where the punters lead, so the advertisers follow – on the strength of my October numbers, I now ‘qualify’ to be an affiliate publisher for both Yahoo and Kelkoo. But as I also continue to service a local advertising market of LOCAL companies who have all, of late, built their own shiny, new websites but simply don’t know what to with them what I’m starting to discover is that jostling for position on a Google or Yahoo ranking – against half a dozen other PVC window manufacturers fom the same industrial estate, zip or postal code, etc, etc – is becoming a less and less attractive option.
    Because it’s such a pain in the ass and, I suspect, increasingly expensive exercise trying to stand out in amongst the Google/Yahoo crowds; the more savvy – ideally – recognise the virtue/value in following the local audience to where they are actually living their web lives, on niche sites delivering the kind of content they want, where and WHEN they want it, ie not after the local newspaper’s print press has rolled.
    Having come through a one-in-three redundancy process to get where I am – precarious a foothold as it may, for now, be – and with another one reportedly en route at the particular regional newspaper group I worked for, the other question on the great Yahoo/newspaper tie-in, is just how many, decent foot soldiers will be left on the ground to service the local news content that Yahoo appears to be buying into?
    If that local content is provided by fresh-faced 18-year-olds barely out of the local media studies college, the punters will vote with their feet – or their mice – and click off to the nearest journalist standing alone in the midst of his niche audience and leave Yahoo/newspapers to run out their bite-sized and belated homogenised views of issues and institutions that still, in the midst of it all, remain so close to punters’ hearts.
    So close that they don’t want to read an 18-year-old’s thoughts; they want it from a trusted and respected source, a professional journalist with a personality and a name – not from some faceless and increasingly byline-less Yahoo-Newspaper conglomerate.
    As for the local advertisers – the second wave of small town firms and businesses newly-armed with their very own websites – they don’t want to be chewed up by the same huge processing machine. They want their name, their brand to stand alone, too.
    That’s all IMHO, of course.

  • Delia

    *testing, testing…*


    I don’t know why you killed my last comment: maybe because I said “hi!” to a fellow commenter? (I figured it was just a nice thing to do… ) or because I wanted to get his input on my suggestion for NAN (is that forbidden *???*); anyways, would have been nice to know… not lastly so I could get some sort of a clue whether or not I should bother to make any more comments on your blog).

    re: ”Craig didn’t kill it. He was merely the first and smartest to see that the internet connects buyers and sellers directly.”

    You may well be right, but that’s certainly not Craig’s story. If you are not buying his story (that he was just a do-gooder that sort of stumbled into it) and believe that, on the contrary, he *purposefully* (out of his smarts or whatever) built a market on the internet… that’s good to know…


    P.S. Oh… and I agree with the other commenter that he *is* the middleman (for every ad where he charges a fee) — he’s basically just moved a (for the most part) existing market on the internet (pretty smart thing to do! but if that would have been craigslist’s declared raison d’etre… I don’t think he would have gotten anywhere this far…). D.

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  • Craig doesn’t prove “the Internet massacres middlemen,” as he became rich being a middleman on the Internet.

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  • Jeff,

    Great post.

    Although I could object with your statement that classifieds is a dead category, I whole heartedly agree with your larger point. The marketplace model for classifieds, and certainly the business model surrounding it (where you pay to publish), is seriously challenged.

    This deal doesn’t seem to go far enough in helping either the newspapers or Yahoo address the seismic changes going on in the classifieds market.

  • Jason Coleman

    Ive seen two consortiums of publishers formed over the last 2 years… and so what is this one called?

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