Cox’s Palm Beach Post.com, fighting to stave off Craigslist and slackening ad trends for newspapers in general, has focused on creating a super site for shopping. The site is replete with free ads, new features such as video, free direct-connect calls to advertisers, online coupons, post-your-own photos and alternative channels beyond a Web site, including kiosks and mobile access.
GM Dan Shorter says the results of his team’s efforts are beginning to pan out, with Craigslist contained to about 25 percent of the listings it has in similarly sized markets such as Austin, Miami and Atlanta. He also notes that a free tier of ads, including a free photo, has created strong upsells, with monthly sales of between 10,000 and 12,000 AdPay packages.
A key to the site’s success has been not isolating shopping from classifieds, but “blending them together and adding inventory feeds from advertisers and self-posted ads from individuals,” says Shorter. Moreover, the services are not limited to the shopping channel.
Specifically, the paper has a network of 60 interactive kiosks and includes inventory from relevant display ads in real estate, health, autos, jobs, entertainment, business and travel. The result is that the site gets display advertisers “in front of more than 8 million shoppers a month,” including many who don’t read the newspaper, either online or off. The kiosks are located at malls, McDonald’s, a ballpark, colleges, libraries and even a gambling establishment.
The kiosks are perhaps the site’s most ambitious efforts. They include every item in every display ad, as well as associated photos and videos, along with classified listings. Up to eight photos can be sent in, and more than 100,000 photos have been uploaded at this point. They are displayed on multiple channels. “It makes the appeal of classifieds that much stronger,” says Shorter.
Recently, video and audio capabilities have been added to the real estate, restaurant and jobs packages. The jobs videos are doing particularly well, especially in the malls — “as much or more than online,” said Shorter.
A newer effort — still unlaunched — is the addition of AgendiZe software, which enables users to save shopping information from one format (i.e., online) and to their phone, PC or iPod. PalmBeachPost.com’s also works with eStara to direct-connect buyers to sellers by letting online buyers click on an icon in Shopping or Classifieds, or call a phone number, to call the advertiser. Calls can be prescheduled and are announced as “another lead from The Palm Beach Post.” The Talk-to-a-seller service is working well, with almost 3,000 users a month. It had 40 percent growth between 2006 and 2007.
The paper also is seeing traction from a real estate information service that it has established with CellSigns, which now has a deal throughout Cox Newspapers. Callers use the service to get detailed text messages on listings, especially as they browse neighborhoods. “We use CellSigns much like the kiosks so everything is available on Mobile, not just real estate,” says Shorter.
CellSigns cofounder David Geipel affirms that the service, which has a number of patents pending, is starting with real estate but can be applied for local mobile search in general. It complements WAP portals like those offered by Crisp Wireless, which are basically mini-versions of the Web site with enhancements. “It is not a broadcast push text message. There is more that you can do,” he says.
Geipel says The Palm Beach Post’s mobile service is getting 30 inquiries per day and up to 125 per day on the weekends. The service is likely to be extended in the near future. “There is a big opportunity to build a mobile business,” he says.