It's Print. It's Online. Will It Sell Ads?

Can the newspaper business be saved?

Tribune Co., Gannett, and Knight Ridder are trying with a new joint venture called ShopLocal.com. What it provides, in theory, is a list of search results both from newspaper sales circulars and from retailers' sites--so readers can either buy online or drive to a nearby store that has products in stock. We asked three critics to give the site a test-drive.

Cliff Sharples, an e-commerce veteran and president of wellness company Kinetix Living

"The idea is a good one, but there are a lot of holes. When you rely on local, you're competing with the tradition of yellow pages and neighborhood flyers. Not to mention the challenges on the database side--you have to keep stores' supply constantly updated."

Chris Shipley, cofounder of market researcher Guidewire Group

"To really make it work, you have to think like a small-store owner. They refer to one another by word of mouth; it's a reputation system and there's actual context there."

Gary Elliott, head of Whitton Supply Co., a hardware store in Oklahoma City

"If I want to buy something, I just go buy it. Many people in my business spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on point-and-click catalogs, but they still do more than 70% of their business in person. If you go to Yahoo and type in 'tools' for Oklahoma City, you're going to get me--and I don't have to pay for it."

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