Obituaries 2.0

Nicholas Carr reports on a Guardian story about a site called YouDeparted.com. According to the article, users of the site “can issue posthumous instructions for everything from their funeral to feeding their pet, cancelling bills and magazine subscriptions, organising their will and other financial matters, sending final letters to friends – and foes – and delivering a valedictory video address summing it all up.”

This new service reminds me of a conversation I had last week at the Kelsey conference with Peter K. and some folks from Quebecor Media. I was discussing my interest in a web site called Find a Grave where you can search and find famous graves from all over the world. I started to wonder about the opportunity in online obituaries classified ads. It must be a good revenue generator for newspapers and I suspect those revenues can only go up.

While researching the subject, I found that many important US newspapers are using the outsourced services of Legacy.com. They describe themselves as “the leading provider of online obituary solutions for the newspaper industry. Legacy.com enhances obituaries with guest books, funeral home information, and florist links, providing a community-oriented, content-rich solution for more than 400 newspapers. Visited by more than 7 million users each month, Legacy.com provides links to obituaries published by the company’s network of newspaper affiliates. Through this network, Legacy.com posts obituaries and Guest Books for one in two people who die in the U.S. each day. ”

Founded in 1998, the company has many investors including Tribune Company. According to this Chicago Sun-Times article, Legacy.com had 50 employees and $10M in revenues in 2005.

News Grab Bag: ContactAtOnce!, Bret Taylor and Jim Norris, DexKnows.com, New Headings in Canada

A selection of some of the praized-worthy news in the last few days:

1) ContactAtOnce!, a provider of presence-aware solutions (click-to-call, IM, etc.) just announced that BargainNews.com, one of their customers, improved the conversion rate of its auto classified website by 77% after adding the ContactAtOnce! service (see screenshot below) to their enhanced advertising packages.

BargainNews Listing Contactatonce

2) Bret Taylor and Jim Norris (both seen below), two of the masterminds behind Google Maps and several other Google products, have joined Benchmark Capital as “Entrepreneurs in Residence.” This gives them paid positions to hang out at Benchmark’s offices on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road and think through starting a business. They have a specific idea in mind, but are secretive about it, telling VentureBeat only that it’s a “consumer Internet” company. I’ve had the chance to work closely with Bret when Google launched their Local site in Canada and it was great fun. I wish them both good luck! (via VentureBeat)

Bret Taylor Jim Norris Google Maps

3) R.H. Donnelley officially launched DexKnows.com, their new local search web site powered by Local Matters (previously known as Dexonline.com). It now includes comparison shopping, a better mapping experience and some personalization tools.

DexKnows.com home page

4) Yellow Pages Group in Canada released their latest heading modifications. It’s always interesting as it gives us a perspective into changes in culture and society. Amongst others, Pilates, Organic Products, Geothermal Energy, Tapas, Brunch, Vegetarian & Vegan Foods are in. Telephone Booths, Shoulder Pads, Chewing Gum and Buttonhole Makers are out.

RealPeopleRealStuff.com: Craigslist Meets YouTube

(via SpringWise)

What do you get when you cross online classified ads with web-based video? Realpeoplerealstuff.com is equal parts Craigslist and YouTube—a whole new way for customers to reach out to one another to sell their used appliances, automobiles, collectibles, concert tickets and countless other goods and services. “Realpeoplerealstuff.com combines the hottest internet trends in one, easy-to-use site: e-commerce, snarky writing, funny videos, everyone’s desire to be a star and video sharing.”

realpeoplerealstuff Video Classifieds

With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can upload their own video commercials, recorded on their camcorders, webcams, digital cameras or cameraphones. Ads are organized by category and location, and users can enter text descriptions, prices, thumbnail photos and tags along with their video clips. For best results, users are encouraged to engage their personality, creativity and sense of humour when filming their commercials. And who knows? One may well turn out to be the next average Joe or Jane launched into internet stardom. The service is entirely free—for now at least, though there may come a day when, like Craigslist, modest charges apply to select portions.

What it means: I really like the concept as I’m very visual. But I wonder about the quantity of energy needed to produce a video vs. taking a simple picture, even if there are many video-capture devices out there. I remember when I started selling stuff on eBay in 2002. There used to be some barrier to entry if you wanted to post a product picture. Then, eBay introduced one of their coolest seller function: the UPC code product finder. When listing a product in some categories (like videogames), you just need to enter the product’s UPC code to instantly get the default image attached to the product, usually a cover shot. By removing friction, eBay got me to post more stuff for sale. I think Realpeoplerealstuff.com will have to think about how they can remove some of that friction.

I also think that classified advertising is all about local. Right now, local seems to be a second thought to the whole site. They need to embrace local much more to eventually be successful. There’s also a chicken & egg problem with local content. You need local content to make your site relevant to local users. I think Realpeoplerealstuff.com should be looking at doing backfill content deals (maybe with Oodle.com) to improve their local content breadth and depth.

Sensis to Sell Back Trading Post?

The Kelsey Group’s blog reports on a possible sale by Sensis of their Trading Post classified property.

After being one of the first directory companies to enter the classified market, Telstra’s Sensis has placed its Trading Post property for sale. According to a report in The Age, “Sensis paid $636 million for the fading publication three years ago, but after continuous revenue declines and senior executive departures, The Trading Post is back on the block for a price believed to be no higher than the telco paid in March 2004.”

The motivation to sell the property seems to have come after the departure of John King, who appeared to be the last major supporter of the venture. This is startling news given Sensis’ much touted strategy of bringing together businesses and consumers in an open trading environment. Sensis has had the golden touch with most of its ventures, so the failure of The Trading Post seems at odd with the company’s goal of being the local media of choice in Australia.

The The Age article adds:

It it is clear that revenue from the publication has been declining, despite growing revenue in the wider $10 billion Sensis empire. Sensis said revenues at The Trading Post were down 7 per cent in the six months to December. The sale of The Trading Post will be the latest in a long line of unsuccessful attempts by Telstra to diversify, including a number of dot-com ventures and troubled joint ventures in Asia. (…) Sources close to the company said attempts to centralise management functions at the previously independent publication had backfired. Broking analysts believe the group did not have the management skills to shift customers online from the weekly print publication.

James Kirby, editor of Eureka Report, adds in an editorial: ” With the planned sale of The Trading Post, Telstra is acknowledging it does not have the expertise in traditional media to recreate the publication as a successful print/online hybrid, which it must become to survive.”

What it means: in a really surprising move, Sensis seems to be interested in selling back their classified division they bought just a few years ago from Trader Corp. It’s a move I don’t understand. Did they paint themselves in a corner by promising to double revenues by 2010, a tall order indeed? In any case, in a world where the winner will be the
one who controls the data
, this is, IMHO, not necessarily a good move by Sensis.

YP Corp. to Acquire Livedeal Inc. for $12M

My friend Mat just sent me this news regarding the acquisition of LiveDeal.com by YP Corp., the owner of YP.com.

Under the terms of the acquisition, LiveDeal shareholders received 15,968,514 shares of YP common stock. LiveDeal will remain an independent entity and a wholly owned subsidiary of YP and the two companies will leverage one anothers content, sales teams and technology to strengthen their individual product offerings. YP plans to use LiveDeals innovative technology platform to converge its four principal marketing channels directories, mobile services, classifieds and advertising/distribution networks into a first-of-itskind, hyper-local marketing solution for businesses and consumers.

After listening to the analyst call, here are additional nuggets of information:

  • They want to become “eBay without the auction”
  • They claim they will be the “first player to fuse classifieds and YP online” (which is not true as most international directory players, like Yellow Pages Group, who have acquired classifieds companies in the past have integrated both together already)
  • Livedeal Inc.’s revenues have grown 300% in the last two years and will reach $5M this year. Breakeven will also be attained this year and current burn rate is $100K per month. Its gross margin is 85%.
  • Livedeal currently has 1M unique visitors
  • Livedeal.com’s will become YP.com’s technology platform.
  • Investors in LiveDeal Inc. will now own 11.5% of YP Corp.
  • LiveDeal’s business model: running newspaper publishers’ classifieds and directory section and sharing revenues with them. The Philadelphia Enquirer, The Toronto Star and Montreal’s La Presse are all customers.

What it means: like my friend Greg, that’s certainly a deal I was not expecting. I’ve said for a few years that directory and classifieds are a natural fit together and I think that acquisition signals more consolidation in the marketplace. For example, Oodle is likely to be acquired by a newspaper publisher this year. As for YP Corp, it looks like they are morphing into a platform play. Hopefully, their past legal troubles won’t impair their ability to sell to large media companies.

First Quarter Newspaper Online Ad Revenues Up 22.3%

(via the Center for media research)

According to preliminary estimates from the Newspaper Association of America, advertising expenditures for newspaper Web sites increased by 22.3 percent to $750 million in the first quarter versus the same period a year ago. Advertising on newspaper Web sites made up 7.1 percent of total newspaper ad spending in the first quarter compared with 5.5 percent for the same period a year ago. (…) Advertising expenditures at newspapers and their Web sites totaled $10.6 billion for the first quarter of 2007, a 4.8 percent decrease from the same period a year earlier. Spending for print ads in newspapers totaled $9.8 billion, down 6.4 percent versus the same period a year earlier.

Of note in the first quarter of 2007, classified advertising fell 13.2 percent to $3.4 billion with the following detailed information:

  • Real estate advertising fell 14.2 percent to $953 million
  • Recruitment dropped 14.3 percent to $975.3 million
  • Automotive was down 20.1 percent to $751.3 million
  • All other classifieds were down 0.5 percent to $699.3 million

What it means: clearly, growth in online advertising revenues at newspapers does not compensate for loss of print revenues. Especially important are drop in automotive, real estate and recruitment (three verticals that are really strong online). What’s most important at this point is making sure newspapers increase the traffic to their web properties by all means (distribution agreements, search engine optimization, launch of new verticals and hyperlocal sites, etc.).
The creation of forced Print/Online bundles might also help them sustain their total revenues while online monetization improves in the future.

EADP Conference: Eniro and User-Generated Content

Barcelona Arts Hotel

At the EADP conference last week, I had the chance to listen to a great presentation by my friend Christer Pettersson from Eniro, the Nordic Countries directory publisher. Their online strategy has always been very progressive but this presentation has convinced me that they are amongst the most innovative directory publishers worldwide.

Here are the highlights:

  • They’ve introduced moderated reviews and ratings within their directory site a year ago with great success. They want this database to become a new competitive advantage that cannot be easily replicated by competition. They offer an opt out for merchants who don’t want it but very few have done it. Some advertisers even include their review scores within their print ad! Users love it.
  • They now offer free user-generated classifieds
  • Eniro acquired 50% of Bubblare.se, the Swedish YouTube. They’re placing a bet on the explosion of online video advertising and want users and advertisers to upload videos.
  • They want to encourage tagging
  • They want people to upload pictures and are introducing picture navigation
  • They want users to update/improve their residential listings
  • They’ve launched a corporate blog

Update: just before publishing this post, I received news that Eniro had acquired Krak.dk for 400M DKK ($72M). According to what I’m reading (my Danish is quite poor…), Krak.dk is one of the leading local search and mapping site in Denmark.

What it means: Eniro has clearly decided they would experiment with all sorts of Web 2.0 applications and features within their network of sites. Kudos!