In property classifieds, the winner isn't a publisher

At Johnston Press last year, regional property advertising declined by 32%. The decline at Trinity Mirror was 27%.

During the course of the year, the two companies saw somewhere in the region of £40m-worth of property-related advertising disappear into thin air.

Putting a number on the deficit in property-related advertising at Northcliffe and Newsquest is more difficult. (Neither company releases specific numbers). Archant remains tight-lipped, too.

But it certainly seems possible that the collapse of the property market deprived the local press of £100m in ad revenues during 2008.

Where did it go? And more importantly: will it ever come back?

It’s tempting to suggest that £100m in ad revenues simply disappeared. But that’s not quite the whole story, as the slide reproduced here from Rightmove’s 2008 results presentation in February suggests.

Doubless, some of that £100m ended up with Rightmove. The pure-play property site expanded its revenues by 31% to £74m during 2008.

Last week, Rightmove issued an update to investors which suggested that the company is ‘trading ahead of the Board’s expectations’and delivering a YOY increase in the average revenue generated per advertiser.

This at a time when the regionals are reporting YOY declines of 50%+ in print-based classified property revenues.

It’s certainly true that the regionals have put up some resistance to Rightmove. During 2006, DMGT purchased Primelocation, which now ranks as the UK’s second-largest property site. DMGT also owns Findaproperty.com, the UK’s fourth-largest property site.

But at £88m, the classified digital revenues generated by DMGT across jobs, property, motors and dating barely outstripped what Rightmove generated through property-related advertising alone in 2008.

Elsewhere, Trinity Mirror reported that property ads accounted for 19% of its £38m in digital revenues during 2008. That’s around £7.2m.

Will that £100m of classified property revenue return to print? No doubt some of it will. But the downturn will hammer print-based yields and volumes -– permanently.

Meanwhile, on the web, the economics of winner-takes-all continue to play out. The problem for journalists is that the emerging winner in digital property classifieds isn’t a publisher of regional newspapers.

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