The situation for the local real estate section looks grim. AdAge is reporting newspaper ad revenue fell nearly $2 billion in Q3 of 2008.

Even online ad sales are looking miserable.

Newspapers’ online ad sales, where everyone is hoping some part of the future business model resides, accelerated their decline with a 3% drop. Online ad sales slipped 2.4% in the second quarter.

No question that once we’re through this recession (now official) the advertising marketplace will be radically different. And the shakeout won’t be pretty. I don’t believe a business model solely reliant on advertising can survive (see Storms Ahead for Real Estate Sites).

So it’s more pressing than ever for the big publishers and online media sites to start thinking about how they can help the industry.

Over a year ago I wrote about three things newspapers could do to help their bottom lines and also help real estate professionals make the transition online (see 3 Ps – The Future for Real Estate Newspaper Advertising)- it’s more urgent than ever to start thinking about some of them.

Reprinted below:

Providing the Platform

Leverage existing publishing infrastructure to provide agents/brokers with a web presence, but free the database from the design so it is totally customizable (Ubertor) and retain a unique top level URL and easily create single property web sites (RealBird). Agents have complete control of their presentation of these sites but traffic can easily be fed both directions. Make the data exportable so if the agent wants/needs to leave they can.

With control of the source of the listing data, it can then be pulled back to enhance the mothership’s search results. There is an opportunity to up-sell featured listings (Trulia) or even premium placement for the agent’s sites on search results (Zillow). Don’t get greedy either – help agents get these listings elsewhere on the ‘Net too (Point2NLS, vFlyer).

Give the agents a blogging platform (, ActiveRain) and allow the content to be rolled up into a hyperlocal information source (Outside.In, Localism, YourStreet). Bonus – you can use this approach to find talented writers that can build out into group blogs (RainCityGuide, BloodhoundBlog), e.g. the PI’s Seattle Real Estate Professionals.

Packaging the Right Tools

Give agents the tools they want to get video tours of their properties and connect the agents with the producers (RealEstateShows, WellcomeMat) but don’t confine the distribution to your site – following the listing model, help the agents syndicate those videos out across the web (TubeMogul).

Promoting the Brand

The package should include various levels of self-service advertising network (with CPM, CPC advertising options) – with options to centralize ad buys on other sites as well. The package could also include placement inside an enhanced local service provider directory (MerchantCircle) in the real estate section. And it should give the Realtor the tools they need to manage their online reputations on other local directory destinations (CitySearch, Yelp, etc.) as well.

With this approach, brokers and agents ultimately would benefit from the one-stop-shop for all their marketing needs as well as playing off the paper’s still resilient brand with local real estate consumers.

If they can see this opportunity, the papers are the only ones that (for now) have the local market penetration to pull something like this off. And at each of the step, there are clear and obvious ways that the newspapers could monetize this – far beyond selling simple classifieds ads.

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Flickr photo by eob.

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