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tractorgirl.jpg Small-town newspapers and radio stations sometimes get into businesses that media companies in larger markets rarely do. They publish directories, develop Web sites, provide Internet access — you name it.

Thousands of newspapers are still family-owned. Increasingly, though, more are controlled by big aggregators of small-market media, such as Lee Enterprises, CNHI and GateHouse Media. These companies do auction advertising, so why don’t they do auctions? And why don’t they link auctions from regional and national players?

Those are the questions Dwayne Leslie, a Manitoba farmer, was asking himself in 1996. Sensing a hole in the market, Leslie created, using as a model other agricultural-oriented sites such as and

The site has since bought out a number of smaller auction sites and changed its name to to account for the addition of non-farm rural verticals, including antiques, construction equipment, real estate, collectibles, trucks, cars, industrial, livestock, liquidation, bankruptcy and farm land. It is run by a six-person team and handles auctions across North America. Its biggest markets are in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas.

Leslie notes that in the popular mind, eBay has been the absolute model for online auctions. For such urban-oriented customers, he says, there is a sense that auctions are just an enhanced side of classifieds. This is how vendors such as CityXpress handle their auctions for various newspaper clients (and a concept that always intrigues me).

But rural customers looking for farm equipment and the like apparently don’t want to do it eBay style. “Farm equipment sales are $5 [million to] $10 million events.” They are also highly specialized. “EBay-style auctions … don’t happen in rural areas,” says Leslie. He adds that auctioneers tend to like his approach more because it brings in people from outside local markets to buy goods “not from just 10 auctions, but a thousand auctions.”

The site is currently in redesign. Leslie jokes that “it looks like it was started in 1996.” But it has an embedded Google map with auction sites on it. And searches can be conducted on a statewide basis.

If local media is going to be involved in this market, they’ve got to start realizing it has changed, adds Leslie. Auctioneers are spending more money on their own Web sites and less money on print. “They’ve gone down from a half page to a quarter page. This is the direction we’re going in.”

By teaming with a specialized national site like, “they can get a bigger piece of the pie,” rationalizes Leslie. In his eyes, some newspapers seem like they are catching on. But “there are so many more that prefer to keep their head in the sand and hope they can continue doing print only like they have for 50 years, or do a real crappy online job and convince advertisers they are getting value from it.”

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