Are Listing Portals Like the NY Times or Consumer Reports?

Sep 20, 2007 Michael Wurzer

A day or so ago, I suggested, again, that advertising supported web sites will have a hard time building a successful listing portal, which I’ll define as having a critical mass of listings for sale in the relevant market. A comment to this post responded:

Yeah, you’re right. It’ll never happen.

Or will it?

The way they’re approaching this, nobody will care who “owns” an MLS, and that’s close enough for me.

First, I don’t believe I said it would “never” happen, though I did say I thought it was unlikely. Why do I believe this? Because a site supported by advertising inevitably will sell ads that conflict with the listing content, and so the sellers and brokers placing that listing content will conclude that their listings are better placed elsewhere.

At about the same time this discussion was occurring, TechCrunch posted about the New York Times’ decision to remove its pay wall for its opinion content. Duncan Riley concluded that post:

Most importantly: this is a win for all of us. The notion of paying to access content is flawed in a connected online world where virtually everything is free, particularly content. Companies such as the NY Times can make money from providing content for free. The fall of the model for all publications is nigh.

This certainly sounds authoritative. Also illuminating, however, were some of the comments:

There is one exception to this – online magazines like Consumer Reports, that will never accept advertising to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest affecting the sincerity of their product and service evaluations.

* * *

Sooner or later micro-payments will take hold. People may not like paying for content, but the popularity of browser software extensions like AdBlocker and Flashblock indicate that quite a few don’t like ads either.

You can’t have “free-as-in-beer” and block all advertising at the same time. Someone has to pay the bills for the servers to run and the content to be produced.

Or to put it another way, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch…

These comments are more along my way of thinking, but let’s go back to real estate for a minute.   With the exception of, the current advertising supported sites don’t have anywhere near complete coverage.  And even has significant gaps in certain parts of the country, like the Pacific Northwest.   Why is this?  Because of the conflicts produced by advertising.

This may be a stretch, but I think the first broad-scale successful listings portal will be more like Consumer Reports — comprehensive listing coverage with expert analysis, not conflicted by ads.