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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