WalMart undercutting local newspapers
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.