Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Classifieds at

WalMart undercutting local newspapers

I learned today that has a free online classified ad service. It seems to be intended mainly for private party use. The Terms of Use say that ads that "engage in any commercial activity" may not be posted.

I noticed that the ads contain many homes for sale by realtors, which would surely be commercial activity, but maybe that's considered OK since the sellers are private parties.

The classifieds site is powered by Oodle, a classified ad aggregator. Oodle gathers classified ads from a variety of sources and makes them searchable. Ads from all sources that match any certain search query are then displayed on an Oodle page with links to their sources.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was not pleased to learn that their newspaper ads were appearing in the WalMart classifieds. WEHCO Media, which owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and ten other Arkansas newspapers, decided to withhold their ads from the WalMart/Oodle site.

While WEHCO realizes it must compete for classified ads and audience, the company says it does not see the advantage in helping classified competitors, especially since classified content is a major reason for reading a newspaper or its Web site, and classified revenues are a major source of funding news gathering, reporting and journalism. (Source)

Having worked several years in classified advertising at Hopkinsville's locally-owned daily, I sympathize with WEHCO Media. Newspapers already face competition on all sides. Dwindling circulation numbers affirm that the public has many choices about where to read the news and advertisements. It's adding insult to injury for WalMart/Oodle to republish a newspaper's classified ads as well as offering free ads.

Classified advertising is a vital revenue source for small newspapers. WalMart's not really interested in the money, though. WalMart wants to take over the traffic that classified ads bring to the local newspaper. They want the public to develop a habit of visiting the WalMart website regularly.

On first glance, free ads may seem a nice service, but it's not helpful to any community if the newspaper goes broke or its owners are forced to sell out to a large newspaper chain.

Really, it reminds me of the Bible's account of David and Bathsheba. David had great riches and plenty of women already, but he looked out from his palace rooftop and saw Bathsheba, the wife of an ordinary soldier, and he wanted her too. That's what WalMart is doing -- looking out from their piles of wealth and seeing something else they want, something that still belongs to small, local firms, in many cases.

A hat tip goes to The Rural Blog, where I learned about the ad controversy in Arkansas. By the way, I've deliberately not linked to either WalMart or Oodle. It's my symbolic bit of protest.


ptg said...

WalMart will surely shrivel up and die without your links. Most folks already have a love-hate relationship with Sam Walton's overgrown baby.

Try to imagine what would be left on WalMart's shelves if everything imported from China were to disappear. Sam used to be a proponent of "buy American", but he is dead and so is his policy.

Genevieve said...

"Love/hate" pretty well sums it up for me. I don't deny that I shop at WalMart fairly often. It's open 24 hours a day, and it usually has the things I need.

I avoid buying Chinese stuff whenever I can, but sometimes I'm fooled -- like the day I bought a couple heads of garlic at WalMart and then read on the label that they were from China. Yuck. I don't trust Chinese food products at all.

ptg said...

What really burns me about Wal-Mart is the fact that all of their so-called fresh meat has from 10% to 20% by weight of salt water injected or soaked into it. They sell an awful lot of salt water at meat prices. Its like the butcher putting his thumb on the scale.

Sure, they disclose it in tiny print, calling the salt water 'seasoned broth' and the process 'enhancement'. I wonder if folks would tolerate beer or medicines 'enhanced' with 20% water? Just because its legal doesn't make it right.

I'm on a less-than-1,000mg/day of sodium diet; the Wal-Mart meat made me swell up like a toad before I read the fine print. I go to a real butcher shop now for all my meat. It isn't really more expensive once you add the salt water to the calculus, and I know how much sodium I'm getting.

But I still go there for other things. Some stuff just isn't made anywhere except China any more.

Genevieve said...

I knew there was something I didn't like about WalMart meat.

ptg said...

The adulterated meat racket is a pet peeve of mine. Not only do the places that sell it cheat the trusting and unsuspecting customer, but the watery meat cooks differently. Old recipes don't come out the same.

Wal-Mart isn't the only one doing this. Target and many large grocery chains are the same.

Even in the age of the nanny state, which folks trust to protect us from bad food, caveat emptor is still good advice.

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