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Vanishing classified ads affect real estate business Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 September 2006
Real estate ads are crucially important to local papers. In 2004, real estate classifieds amounted to $4.2 billion, about a quarter of all classified ads and roughly 10 percent of total newspaper revenues. The oddity of real estate classified spending is that it's up while circulation is down, meaning the cost per impression has risen.

In 1985, says NAA, daily distribution reached 62.8 million copies. By 2004, daily circulation stood at 54.6 million -- a loss of better than 8 million subscribers. During the period from 1985 to 2004 the U.S. population increased by 34.2 million people. In effect, market penetration declined substantially.

Now comes research from Borrell Associates -- a national research and consulting firm that tracks local Internet advertising and crafts strategies for media and web sites -- which suggests that newspapers will face a huge loss of real estate ads.

In its study, Online Real Estate Advertising: 2006 Update, Borrell says that:

In 2001, $11.2 billion was spent on real estate advertising -- and only $396 million (3.5 percent) was spent online.

In 2005, $11.7 billion was spent on real estate ads -- but this time $1.7 billion (14.7 percent) was spent online.

For 2010, Borrell sees total real estate ad spending dipping to $9.6 billion -- but $3.1 billion (32.1 percent) will be spent on the Web. Corrected for inflation, that $9.6 billion actually represents far less spending than $9.6 billion would have bought this year.
(A free copy of the Borrell report's executive summary is available online by pressing here.)

Towards the end of 2005 the nearly rotten started looking truly rotten. As home sales slowed down and the inventory of unsold homes grew, the Internet became the most-used method of selling a home. The $11 billion spent on total real estate advertising stagnated, growing less than four percent over the past four years, while the available advertising inventory rose 41 percent in the last 12 months. That metric alone is enough to stop a real estate advertising executive dead in his or her tracks.

At this point the argument will be made that newspapers are shifting to online publication and distribution, thus they will capture some or much of the newly-emerging online classified revenue. This is likely to be both true but not true enough.

Many metro newspapers are print monopolies. They're able to increase ad revenues even in the face of declining subscription levels because there's no practical alternative.

But what's true of local metro areas is not true online. On the Web no one has a monopoly. Successful sites are already in place plus new and potent competitors are launched each day, thus there is no way to force up prices. In fact, the usual Internet trend is to drive prices to zero.

One theoretical way to solve the declining sales problem would be for newspapers to adopt a new revenue model. Rather selling ad space and exposure, newspapers could become licensed brokerages and charge referral fees. Newspapers, in a sense, could become local "print portals" seeking a piece of every "lead" they provide.

The old days of local print monopolies and 20 percent annual profits are dead. If newspapers are smart -- and they usually are -- they will combine print and online ads into a single fee schedule. This will allow them to leverage their remaining local monopoly into something that offers advertisers more than other localized online ad sites can provide. Lastly, expect newspapers to inter-connect data so they can present huge numbers of ads for many metro areas.

Edwina Baniqued

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