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Web sites chase classified dollars

Two new online ventures for the lucrative classified ad market put the heat on established print venues for local ad listings.

Web sites are continuing to put pressure on newspapers in the battle for classified advertising dollars as two new online ventures for this lucrative market launched today.

Pacific Bell's online guide AtHand started HomeFind, which contains more than 150,000 real estate listings in California. The feature also provides home buyers with Thomas Bros. maps and photographs. It allows searches by price, region, and amenities such as swimming pools.

At the same time, a venture called the Business Resale Network today began offering classified business ads. There will be 2,000 listings in 17 categories for businesses ranging from $50,000 to more than $1 million. The site, a joint venture of Entrepreneur Magazine and Franchise Update, carries a wide range of properties, including franchises such as 7-Eleven. Executives predict that the number of listings will double by next month based on pilot testing.

Both ventures are part of an accelerating trend to capture ad dollars that long have been a cash cow for metro dailies. Besides phone companies, major software firms such as Microsoft, and Internet companies such as Yahoo are getting into the local information and listings act.

"Everybody's competing for those classified, local advertising dollars, and the newspapers need to cover their flank," Pete Storck, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, said of the online march against established print revenues. While growing, the online ad market remains small in comparison to the print one. It is expected to $5 billion by the year 2000, including more than $1 billion for classified ads.

To some extent, newspapers are responding. Dailies and other publications are expanding their own online advertising presence. They are creating individual online sites; media giants including the New York Times Company, Times Mirror, and Tribune Company formed the New Century Network last year in part to sell online advertising.

The classifieds battle is getting tough, though. As reported by CNET, the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times have refused to run ads for Pac Bell's AtHand. The L.A. Times said the reason was due to competition with its own Web site. The Mercury News, which runs Mercury Center online, would not comment.