Magazine article Editor & Publisher

City Guides Look to E-Commerce Pg.39

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

City Guides Look to E-Commerce Pg.39

Article excerpt

The competitive city guide business isn't just about arts and entertainment listings anymore. As city guide companies search for profitability and loyal users, they're incorporating more e-commerce into their sites.

Evan Neufeld, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York, says most city sites have been a disappointment in terms of content and advertising. "I think the model is a little dated now," he says. "Four or five years down the road, when (target marketing by geography) is better, what do you need local content for? It costs (city guides) millions to put that content up there."

Further, Neufeld sees a lot of competition in markets like New York, Seattle, and San Francisco, which he says lack the local advertising to support all these sites. That's what's driving city guides to enhance their local e-commerce functions. If they can't support themselves from advertising alone, hopefully e- commerce will pick up the slack. The top city guide players (CitySearch, Cox Interactive Media, America Online's Digital City, Knight Ridder Real Cities, MSN's Sidewalk, and Yahoo!) all have either implemented local e-commerce strategies, or are about to.

Besides the search for profitability, a number of forces are shaping changes in the city guides, including demands of the Internet user, who is becoming more mainstream and less early adopter; improving technology to enable e-commerce; and an expanding base of local advertisers. And reflecting a Web-wide trend, city guides are becoming local portals, with community publishing, free e-mail, enhanced search capabilities, and personalized pages and e-mail offered.

Microsoft Network's Sidewalk.com reportedly quadruped its unduplicated users since its October relaunch, expanding from an arts and entertainment-only site to include a consumer products guide and Yellow Pages directory. "We're using the Internet to help [users] find out how to make good buying decisions," says Kevin Wueste, general manager for Sidewalk, Redmond, Wash.

Sidewalk has big plans to deliver other ways to educate consumers, including building e-mail around certain products like DVDs, ski reports, sale alerts, or local services. "As we work hard to integrate more news, weather, and if you are interested in how to find a good tax lawyer, maybe we'll create a newsletter around it," Wueste says. Microsoft hopes its recent purchase of Comparenet, a consumer product comparison tool, will strengthen its buying guide prowess and lead to new e-commerce opportunities. …

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