‘Boocoo’ Bucks?

By: Mark Fitzgerald

No medium has ever been better at getting cash registers to ring by bringing buyers and sellers together with newspapers’ advertising power. But getting a cut of the transactions they engineer so effectively has proven elusive.

A national network of newspapers that launches in May plans to change that with an auction system that will give newspapers a split of the transaction fee when it brings bidders and sellers together. Ranger Data Technologies, the Augusta, Ga.-based company best known for its classified advertising systems, will debut Boocoo Auctions with at least 200 newspaper mastheads covering more than 6,000 of the 29,735 ZIP codes it has identified as residential ZIPs.

ZIP codes are a key to Boocoo Auctions business model. Individual ZIP codes will be “licensed” to participating newspapers or another medium in the market, as Ranger Data executives emphasize. Licensing ZIPs solved the tricky problem of how to divide revenue when a bidder from one newspaper’s circulation area buys from someone in another paper’s turf.

“Let’s say The Augusta Chronicle decides to become a partner,” says Ranger Data President and COO Tony Marsella. “They submit to us all the ZIP codes that they cover. We check the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) audit to validate that they have enough coverage to license that ZIP code. They then have the exclusive right to all the activity that happens in the ZIP code for a year, with the paper getting a piece of the transaction fee.”

If the buyer and seller are from different licensed ZIPs, the newspapers share the partner fee. If they are both from the same ZIP, the paper gets the entire share.

The auction idea had been percolating in the mind of Ranger Data founder George Willard Sr. since the beginning of the decade as newspapers began to see revenue erode in their classified segments. When the erosion became a torrent, he says, it seemed Boocoo’s moment had arrived. Among the first papers to launch will be The St. Petersburg Times and Cox Newspapers.

“I think it’s about time we had some kind of partnership on the merchandising side. Between print and online there’s been a lack of sophistication on how newspapers handle transactions,” says Mark Stange, Cox’s head of classified and recruitment advertising.

“What I’m really excited about is, it doesn’t matter how someone gets into the site, the newspaper will get its split,” says Willard. Indeed, when a user at a newspaper site clicks to check out Boocoo, it appears he hasn’t left. But users cannot go anywhere from the Boocoo site, except back to the newspaper.

After the launch, Ranger Data intends to add features that will allow newspapers to track shopping trends, identify “super users,” and, ultimately, discern behavior patterns in their markets.

“This is not tied to sales, it’s not tied to advertising. You do not have to train your salespeople to sell yet another product,” COO Marsella says. “This is pure e-commerce.”

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