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Topix, the news aggregator owned by Tribune, Gannett and (probably) McClatchy, is teaming up with ShopLocal to distribute its retail ads to users on a hyperlocal basis. ShopLocal, a provider of onliner circulars and other local ad services, is owned by the same consortia. "They have the pricing information and we have the impressions," says Michael Markson, Topix’s VP of business development.

The first customer for the service is Walgreens, which has 5,000 drugstores around the country and frequently has different promotions for different locations. The ads, which have been branded as "Smart Media" by ShopLocal, are sold on a premium CPM basis.

Initially, the ads will be served by ZIP code to users of Topix's local news aggregations. More than 50 percent of Topix's 7 million unique visitors access local news. Eventually, Markson says, the service may be expanded to reach all its users, since Topix can identify users by location, whether they are checking out "Tallahassee news," "The World Cup" or "Diabetes."

Markson notes that the new deal with ShopLocal is just the latest variant on advertising for Topix, which serves as a skunkworks for its owners. The site is an outlet for Google AdSense and also hosts CitySearch ads, and as of last month, free classifieds. "We are getting 300 to 500 (classified) posts a month," he says. Topix is also taking in-orders from advertisers, generally very small advertisers such as Laundromats.

While advertisers might lump Topix into the "aggregator" slot along with Digg and, Markson says the site is actually more representative of local populations around the country, rather than just the digerati. "Just look at our forums. You'll see red" levels of concentration all over, he notes.

The deal definitely pushes the envelope. If successful, ShopLocal is likely to take its "Smart Media" efforts to other distributors, in addition to Topix. On the cautionary side, however, efforts to work with national retailers to provide local "adversioning" have largely failed in the past. The question for me is: Are the retailers ready this time?

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