Reflections on ICMA 2010 and a Fast Changing Classifieds Industry

Last week I spoke at the annual gathering of the International Classifieds Media Association (ICMA) in Vienna, Austria. My colleague Peter Krasilovsky and I have had the pleasure of attending and speaking at this function in past years.

What I noticed this year is a definite reawakening in the classifieds business, which now sees itself surviving the entry of Google (and now, also Facebook). That’s a very different situation from when I addressed this audience five years ago.

It is more than just survival, however. The ICMA attendees themselves have remarkably evolved. At this year’s gathering, there was a noticeable increase in young entrepreneurs operating businesses in more than 33 countries around the world. And there were plenty of vendors to enable the transformation of classifieds from the offline to the online world.

I was especially struck by two companies. Mocality.com is an early stage, online-only classifieds and directory company that has launched in Kenya. The company, which has found an interesting way to aggregate and verify business listings, is a division of Nespars, the large but little-known South African media conglomerate.

Mocality.com CEO Stefan Magdalinski told me that Kenya leads the way in Africa and perhaps other parts of the world in the use of mobile payment technology that lets mobile users pay for goods and services via SMS message. In essence, Kenya is moving to a cashless economy at a very fast pace.

As I listened and asked questions of many of the “delegates” — this is the European term for attendees — I learned a great deal about the new business opportunities being pursued by energetic entrepreneurs in both emerging and developed markets.

Axel Springer, the large German media company, for instance, has built a leading position in the jobs/recruitment space by leveraging e-mail and newsletters to drive traffic and conversion.

Another player is ISV, a mobile player that has already established a presence in Canada with a solution that allows mobile users to focus more on browsing than find and buy. ISV also offers an easy and fast approach for loading a listing via a mobile device. One can upload video and pictures and text via a mobile phone and can also remove a listing via the mobile.

ADConversion is another exciting company exhibiting at ICMA. The company, which is run by former Google AdSense execs in Europe, helps smaller publishers drive incremental revenues by optimizing AdSense advertising. In return, it asks for a percentage of the incremental revenue it helps generate.

All in all, it is very interesting to see new businesses and new business models in local media springing up all over the globe. While it is true that the U.S. market accounts for nearly half of the advertising budget around the globe, there are non-U.S. entrepreneurs — some running start-ups, some launching new business from inside long established media companies — who are driving very exciting business models in directories, local search, classifieds and social media.

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