Village Voice Sells Classifieds in Pilot Project

Tight real estate market makes new service popular in Big Apple.

In its first serious stab at e-commerce, the Village Voice recently launched a new service that provides subscribers with instantaneous access to the paper’s classified ads. So far, the program — called Voicem@il — has been a resounding success.

Introduced on July 24, the service has been extremely popular with people trying to find an apartment in the notoriously tight, Big Apple market, said Charles Schleck, manager of Web development. Although an overwhelming majority of subscribers are looking for a place to live, Voicem@il can also be used to find a job, a piece of furniture or a member of the opposite sex.

The service appears to be the first of its kind.

According to Schleck, Voicem@il delivers classified ads to interested parties even faster than the daily updates on the paper’s Web site. Once a person registers, they receive an e-mail message whenever a classified ad is placed that meets their pre-selected criteria. Users can make their searches as broad (e.g., every new ad that is placed) or as narrow (e.g., East Village, one-bedroom apartments that accept pets and that rent for under $2,000) as they like. The e-mails — sent minutes after ads are placed — direct subscribers to a secure, personal Web site that presents all of the ads that match their specifications.

Subscribers can spend $10 (the average cost of a New York cocktail, according to Schleck) for a one-week subscription, or as low as $7 for four weeks. Schleck estimates that in the first two months about 1,000 people have signed up for the plan, with subscription durations averaging three weeks. The Classified Intelligence Report, a newsletter published the Advanced Interactive Media, reported that 52 percent of the people who subscribe to Voicem@il use New York as their billing address.

“It’s been remarkably positive,” Schleck said ” We’ve gotten very few pieces of hate mail.”

It’s no secret that an apartment hunt in New York can be cutthroat. Real estate ads fill the classified sections of Voice and the New York Times, both of which have historically held dominant positions in the real estate market. As recently as the mid-1990s, apartment hunters lined city streets on Thursday afternoons hoping to grab a copy of the Voice the minute it hit the racks. Schleck said the scene was reminiscent of Depression-era photos.

“It was a remarkable sight,” he said. “It was like a soup kitchen line.”

All that changed in the spring of 1997, when Voice online classifieds went daily. Since then, the paper posts new classifieds every day at midnight, and the whole section is completely updated at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays. Currently, the Voice’s online classified section receives about 40,000 unique users every week.

Despite the staggering demand for instantaneous access to the Voice’s classified section, the new service worried Schleck, who was concerned that the paper would be criticized for charging for information that it also gives away for free. But, Schleck discovered the opposite was true.

People have contacted the classified department to thank them for providing an option to real estate brokers, and advertisers have expressed delight at the immediate impact of their ads.

Schleck said the only glitch happened right after VoiceM@il was launched. One advertiser, who wasn’t aware of the new service, didn’t yet have keys to the apartment when people started calling.

And while the profits aren’t huge, the service cost very little to create and is inexpensive to maintain, Schleck said. Schleck said the Village Voice Media will probably bring Voicem@il to the other markets it publishes in but has not yet made plans to do so.

For more information on Voicem@il, see