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August 31 2010

14:00

Boston.com launches a real estate-focused iPhone app

Yesterday, Boston.com, the website of the Boston Globe, announced the launch of its real estate-focused iPhone app. The new (and free) tool, per its iTunes description page, will allow users to:

• Browse complete listings from across Massachusetts, all of New England and Florida, including photos and floor plans.
• Search for properties by city or town, or use the built-in GPS feature to find homes for sale, rentals, and open houses near you.
• View those listings on a map or in a list format. Save listings you like, and create email alerts for your favorite searches.
• Upload and store your own photos and notes about any property you visit.
• Refine listings by property type, square footage, price, newly listed and more.
• Browse listings from Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods.
• Email your favorite listings to a friend.
• Contact agents quickly and easily by email or phone.

The Globe’s move into mobile real estate facilitation is of a piece with newspaper apps that Gawker might call “servicey“: tools, like The New York Times’ “Learning English” app (or, indeed, like the Times’ own real estate app), that are less about content-providing and more about…helping.

“We felt this was an extension of the real estate vertical value proposition we have for both our audience and our advertisers,” says Robert Kempf, VP/Digital for the Globe and Boston.com. The app provides a service both to users engaged in the exciting-but-often-mystifying-and-therefore-stressful process of home-buying (think Zillow, the interactive real estate platform) and to those who merely wish they were engaged in it (think Zillow, the interactive real estate porn site). Kempf highlights four main functions of the app, all of them geared toward convenience and usability: browsing listings by neighborhood, browsing listings by geolocation (“what’s near me right now?”), browsing open houses, and using an interoperable interface with Boston.com.

That last one is significant — for both users and, of course, the advertisers who love them. At the moment, Kempf told me, the Globe has about 95 percent of the area market’s real estate listings (some of which are then up-sold as premium listings). With the app, “we’re simply extending all listings, whether paid or not, onto the mobile platform. So it’s additional value for anyone who’s got a property listed on Boston.com.”

And though the paper plans to solicit sponsors for the new application, it doesn’t have one yet. Which means: “At this point, it’s additional value for our real estate advertisers,” Kempf says. Moreover, “there’s no intention at this point to charge a premium to our real estate advertisers for inclusion on this product. That’s just part of the value proposition for them when they engage with Boston.com.”

The other part of that proposition? Eyeballs. “It’s a matter of, we deliver a digital audience,” Kempf says. “We try to be agnostic about whether we deliver that audience on the web or mobile. It’s an inclusive strategy for our advertisers.” And the audience delivered by people interested in real estate — aspirationally or, you know, actually — is, of course, a potentially lucrative one for those advertisers.

The new app also provides a relatively closed area in which the Globe can experiment with and learn about the mobile space. In general, Kempf points out, apps offer two core opportunities for news organizations: use-case-specific platforms and location-based services. In the case of a real estate app, he says, “you have a very specific use-case — real estate — and you have a great opportunity to offer location-based services.” So while “we know that adoption, generally, of location-based services has been relatively low so far,” Kempf notes (true story), “we believe that real estate is on the leading edge of that as a mass-reached utility.”

The goal? While it’s still early on — and “really early to tell what the rate of adoption is going to be here,” Kempf notes — “I would like to see us be a dominant, if not the dominant, local real estate application that’s being used in the Boston market.” The same kind of penetration that Boston.com’s real estate section has had, Kempf says, he’d like to see the new app have in the mobile space. “We think it’s a great place to start.”

March 11 2010

17:00

The Newsonomics of new news syndication

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

It’s tough to get the printer’s ink out of news people’s veins. For many, journalism = printing, and in printing, each copy costs extra. It’s an analog, manufacturing mindset, and one to finally bid goodbye.

Of course, we all know how freely we can fling stories about on the web, but second copy value — and cost — has an evolving business model implication, as the news industry looks for new pillars of support. That business model implication is syndication. Syndication in the old world meant the syndicates — among them, King Features, Universal Press Syndicate and now-put-up-for-sale United Media —and it meant wires, like AP, Reuters, and AFP, all of whom built big businesses on the increasing margin in the second, third and fourth copies of editorial content created and redistributed. Other syndicators (think Lexis-Nexis and Factiva) have built big businesses, selling multiple copies of stories to corporations and governments for their workforces and to schools of every level and size.

Now, we’re beginning to see next-generation syndication embraced by digital news startups, and that’s good news, a good supplement to advertising and sponsorship revenues, to membership charges and conferences.

Take GlobalPost for example. GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni embraced syndication as a revenue source from the site’s early planning and rollout. “I knew I needed multiple revenue streams to support our business, and syndication of our original content — in a world of rapidly diminishing international reporting — seemed like a no-brainer to me especially given our pricing flexibility.”

GlobalPost now gets about 12 percent of its overall revenue from syndication. It shares its correspondents’ posts with about 30 newspaper, broadcast and other news sites in the U.S. and worldwide. It counts among its clients CBS News, New York Daily News, the Times of India, Australian Associated Press, Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Newark Star Ledger. Sites pay a monthly flat rate and can use their fill of GlobalPost stories. In addition to web use, print publications can and do use them in print as well.

GlobalPost isn’t alone. Politico added a syndication network, the Politico Media Network, to its bag of tricks early on. For Politico, it’s a multi-pocket pool play, leveraging a related advertising network around the syndication and its own partnership with Reuters.

California Watch, the new initiative of the Center for Investigative Reporting, is figuring out the contours of its syndication business. Early in its life, it has found daily newspapers, broadcasters, start-ups and the ethnic press to be eager customers of its work, with some big stories reaching audiences of two million or more. Early on, CIR has priced its work fairly inexpensively, in the low hundreds of dollars. As it is getting traction, it is thinking of syndication as a key business model and will test pricing models over the next year

The Chicago News Cooperative, the supplier of local news coverage for the Chicago edition of The New York Times, operates on a similar principle, able to sell stories to multiple customers.

The principle here is devilishly simple — but has not been well enough applied. It’s been described from the inception of the Internet: the second copy is free (or really close to free). It’s also part of a basic Newsonomics law, Law #9: Apply the 10% Rule. Let technology do the value multiplication, not expensive-to-hire-and-feed humans.

Every syndication dollar earned is another dollar that doesn’t have to be wrung out of highly competitive advertising markets. Importantly, the syndication dollars derive from what journalism organizations do best: create high-quality content. The big notion: create better-than-good-enough content, the kind of stuff that is beginning to flood the web. It’s another way to affirm worth: the more companies that want to use your content, the clearer the value proposition in the digital world.

So what’s old is new again. In addition, syndication offers the potential of selling beyond traditional media that may offer significant new revenues. For local news companies, established for more than a hundred years or a few months, it’s a destination-plus model. It’s not about readers coming to your site; it’s about getting people to read your content —and get paid for it. It’s also — witness the Politico model — a way to enable an ad network, related to syndicated content. In fact, I can envision a range of locally oriented sites — from the Yelps, Open Tables and Zillows to government sites to niche mom’s and family sites and beyond — that may find use for various kinds of content. The first step for would-be syndicators: inventory and categorize what you have, and talk to would-be customers about what they might want to use.

Some have said that in the digital world, news companies need to think of themselves both as creators and aggregators, doing what they do best and linking to the rest. Let’s amend that: creators, aggregators, and syndicators, doing what they do best, licensing with zest and linking to the rest.

January 13 2010

13:29

REAL STATE BUSINESS MOVING TO MOBILE

trulia-layar-on-iphone

When the CEO of Google says that very soon they will make more money with Mobile than with Internet, imagine a Mobile Tablet and you will understand why the Apple coming tablet could be a dramatic innovation.

Business are moving to Mobile.

Realtor, like Zillow and Sawbuck, are taking their listings to the iPhone.

If you use Realtor, you will be able to access to about 4 million listings across the United States that they say are updated every 15 minutes.

Realtor say the new app will allow home shoppers to search for open houses within a 20-mile radius, sorted by location or date. Users can take camera-phone photos of listings as they tour them, assign them star ratings, jot notes on the phone, and quickly post listings to their Twitter or Facebook pages–or e-mail them to friends, family and their buyer’s agent.

Many newspapers still think that the only strategy to save their classifieds is to move them to Internet.

Well, too late.

Move tham to Mobile.

That’s the future.

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