The gold in the Web’s hills

Poynter’s Steve Outing, a guy who knows more than most about this whole new media thing, misses the mark a bit in a Saturday piece about a new free classifieds Website in Bakersfield, California. The new site, Bakotopia, is published by the local newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian. The site runs independent of any Californian label, something Steve calls “clandestine,” but that’s another story. The site was built to compete with the incredibly popular “Craigslist.”

Craigslist is now in Bakersfield, as is a new Craigslist competitor, ZiXXo. As the Californian’s executives apparently have figured out, their traditional print and online classifieds can’t compete with Craig for the young demographic, so it’s time to fight fire with fire.

What’s the business model? Product manager Dan Pacheco (whose other life is as president of Colorado-based consultancy FutureForecast) says the plan is to build as large of an audience as possible, then down the road perhaps charge for some ads — though that’s not anticipated for some time. This is the Craigslist model: Craig’s city sites don’t charge for ads, except in a couple major markets where the company has begun charging for employment and some rental ads. Pacheco says other ideas for Bakotopia to make money are being discussed, but nothing’s yet ready to be talked about publicly.

Steve notes that Bakotopia is “clearly aimed at the young” and wonders if that might be a mistake, because Craigslist targets both young and old. He goes on:
The model can and surely will change as Pacheco and newspaper executives watch how the Bakersfield public responds and uses the site — and figure out how to make money from giving away classifieds. (Besides, what newspaper executive is ever going to write off on a business plan to create a free-classifieds site that competes directly with the paper’s traditional paid classifieds?)
Here is where Steve is a bit off-the-mark. In the California gold rush, it was the land that had the real value, not the gold. If you owned the land, you owned the rights to the gold. So it is with the real estate of the Web. The real gold in its hills can be found in the precision with which advertisers can follow behavior, but most people can’t or don’t see that. The more behavior-centric sites a local media company owns, the more revenue it can make downstream through contextual advertising. A quality, local free classifieds site is rich with such data.

On the Internet, you still make money the old-fashioned way. The difference between IRL and URL, however, is that the online model for so doing is often obscured. As I’ve preached often, if you feed the sheep, they’ll give you wool. Online, the wool is information. There’s nothing clandestine about that.


  1. Good analysis! I agree with you 100% about the need for traditional media to follow audience behavior. You hit the nail on the head.

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