Classified ads in newspapers have been passe for years, thanks to the Internet. Now static classifieds could be on their way out on the Web.
The next big thing? Video classifieds -- consumer-produced commercials that range from embarrassingly low-budget to masterful, with humiliating, somewhat amusing and compelling in between.
Several websites are devoted to video classifieds, including Realpeoplerealstuff.com and IMoondo.com, and consumers are starting to post them on established commerce sites like EBay.com and YouTube.com.
It's a no-brainer. Nearly 50% of the U.S. population -- 155.2 million people -- will watch videos online for one reason or another in 2008, research firm EMarketer has predicted, so there's obviously money to be made.
And there are benefits for consumers. With videos, sometimes buyers can see who's trying to sell them something, and whether what's for sale lives up to the billing.
"Video enables the seller to create credibility," said Randy Selman, chief executive of Onstream Media Corp., a Florida-based company that partnered with EBay to help users post video ads there.
But what's really behind the trend? Also a no-brainer.
"We're trading on the insatiable demand for personal celebrity," said Alan Jacobson, president of Realpeoplerealstuff.com. "Everybody wants to star in your own commercial."
Troy Schoeller insisted that wasn't the case for him. He owns Horror Business, a shop that sells punk-rock and hard-rock clothing and music in Boston, and was having trouble conveying the essence of his offerings with the fliers he put up around town. So he posted a video ad -- starring himself standing beside a rack of shirts and near a decorative corpse -- on IMoondo.com.
"The fliers can't show the naked, bloody women I have hanging on my walls," he said, "or my really hot mannequin."
The video posting, he said, drew customers.
Video ads don't always work. Sandy Dykes, a Florida resident who wanted to give away kittens, posted "Circus Kats" -- showing felines playing with balls of yarn -- on YouTube, Break.com and Realpeoplerealstuff. The video drew more hits than classifieds he ran on Craigslist.org, but no buyers.
Video classifieds are new, and the basics -- cars, washing machines, adorable kittens -- are still pushed mostly through old-fashioned methods on the Web. The Internet has yet to develop "critical mass of buyers and sellers" via video, said Barry Parr, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
Right now on Realpeoplerealstuff, there are videos featuring an "attractive YouTube star" (name and fame unknown) selling a novel; a Montgomery, Ala., flea market (the ad first appeared on television); and an Australian python named Lucifer (selling Lucifer? It's not clear).
For all that, video classifieds might find a savior in an unlikely place: newspapers.
Many newspaper websites have started to allow users to post video ads for cars, houses and jobs, the most lucrative classified categories, said Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of Classified Intelligence, an industry consulting firm.
Video ads work well for newspapers because humans are naturally drawn to movement, he said. And print classifieds, which charge per word and often contain abbreviations and grainy photos, are limited by space in a way that video ads aren't.
Realpeoplerealstuff's Jacobson said the site was teaming up with a major newspaper company -- he wouldn't reveal which one -- in a revenue-sharing video ad program. People who buy classifieds in any of the company's newspapers will be offered the opportunity to post video ads on Realpeoplerealstuff.com, for no more money.
The site's technology will make it easier for users to post video ads, he said, marking one way for papers to hold on to the $20 billion spent on advertising in the daily newspaper classified marketplace.
"Newspapers that really offer effective classifieds, including video, will still be in the classified business for a number of years to come," Zollman said.
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Troy Schoeller's video tour of his Horror Business in Boston, complete with punk rock music and bloodied mannequins, features many of the products he sells in his shop.
Sammy Steven's rap about his flea market in Montgomery, Ala., appears on YouTube and classified ad sites and has been remixed into American Idol and Reggaeton versions.
Sandy Dykes was trying to get five cats off his hands, so he posted a video of them playing and jumping after a ball of yarn on several websites.