Willamette Week Develops Classified Software

Frustration Leads to Innovation at AAN Member Paper.

Fed up with a rickety computer classified software system that took a two-week dive in November of 1998 (plus an encore a month later), the folks at Willamette Week decided to build their own. What they came up with, according to then-Director of Classified Advertising and Web Publishing Jim Abeles, is a system that handles all aspects of classified advertising online for roughly one-tenth the cost of other widely-used services.

Initially hoping to cover development costs, the City of Roses Newspaper Group (publishers of Willamette Week in Portland, Ore., and the Santa Fe Reporter in Santa Fe, N.M.) and MSN Media, Inc. (no, not that MSN) have formed PublishingSystems.com as a separate company and are actively marketing the software to newspapers nationally and overseas.

A recent day of suffocating heat and humidity in Washington (accompanied by overall irritability and the technological acumen of a small soap dish on the part of the intrepid AAN staffer) seemed ideal for putting the software via the Publishing Systems demo (http://www.sitecraft.com/pubsys/demo/index.htm ) to the test. In about five minutes, “Leon Trotsky” of the Association of Albino Newtfanciers was able to place an ad to sell a 1975 Chevy Nova with 110,000 miles and a stylish primer coat paint job. The demo offers a “preview ad” feature that allowed the late Comrade Trotsky to edit his listing and save a little imaginary money. The instructions were moron-proof.

Abeles, now president of PublishingSystems.com, says that a paper looking only to streamline their classified ad process can be hooked up for around $2000; the full installation, including display and classified ads and, in Abeles’ words, “total web integration” can be done for around $20,000–about 10% of the cost of the replacement systems Willamette Week considered. Abeles explains the practical value of the software: “On the front end, the process is automated so that ads placed online are immediately authorized for credit card processing and go directly into the Classified system. On the back end, the system makes the database ‘live’ for detailed online searching. “For advertisers, that means that ads placed from the website are available online almost immediately (it only takes as long as the time for a Classified rep to review and okay the ad). And for the paper, it means no re-keying in text and no call backs.”

A June 30 Willamette Week piece by publisher Richard Meeker states the case for the venture:

“What’s the meaning of all of this? Mostly that the world of the Internet is fraught with risk, but also with opportunity. In the case of WW’s classifieds, our risk is that we lose readers and revenue to the Web. Our opportunity is that, for a reasonable cost, we can try to control our own destiny. The financial stability this should provide will help us continue to provide journalism that makes a difference.”

PublishingSystems.com demonstrated the software at May’s AAN convention and has had numerous inquiries since. Abeles : “We have over 10 AAN papers that are likely customers.” (Citing ongoing contract negotiations, he declined to name the papers.) The software will be in place at Willamette Week by the end of this month and at the Reporter in August.

Note: The MSN Media reference had me confused, thinking it was you-know-who. The initials are those of lead programmer Matt Navarre, who owns the name and also the humorous web site www.microsuck.com.