That Loud Yelp You Hear is Newspapers Being Squeezed—Again

There's something I've said in passing in a couple of posts and comments recently—and in any number of offline conversations—that bears highlighting: I believe that Yelp is doing the kind of fundamental damage to newspapers' traditional local entertainment listing and reviewing role that craigslist did to classifieds.

I'm not the only one making this point. Paul Smalera made a great argument about Yelp's dominance in Slate's The Big Money recently, and Peter Krasilovsky raised the spectre of Yelp reaching critical mass as far back as November.

What's happening is that Yelp now has enough crowdsourced participants and reviews of enough businesses in enough markets to be a truly useful tool in trying to decide what to do for entertainment (and more). Combined with search and geo-location (Yelp's iPhone app is indispensable), Yelp is becoming a very powerful tool. 

That's a big deal for newspapers, which long have touted their allegedly encyclopedic knowledge of the local scene, as well as their restaurant and entertainment reviewers. But why grapple with clumsy newspaper entertainment-guide and calendar interfaces, and take the word of a single, over-stretched reviewer, when you can quickly see what the crowd is saying on Yelp about the place you want to go? And as Yelp expands its reach beyond restaurants and entertainment locations into other local businesses, it's becoming even more valuable. Advertisers will be sure to follow.

The last really defensible franchise for newspapers is local news and information, and local entertainment, dining and business listings and guides are a critical part of that franchise—especially in the ways they can attract advertisers. But if Yelp is providing a better, easier to use mousetrap, just as craigslist did with classifieds, newspapers are going to lose big. Yet again.

4 thoughts on “That Loud Yelp You Hear is Newspapers Being Squeezed—Again

  1. I think that this is more or less true, but one place that I think the newspapers can more or less shine is in painting a broad picture of a local scene. Yelp works great at low-levels – when you want the exact scoop on one restaurant. Newspapers (and I am thinking of the Austin Chronicle as an example) still have a better grasp of that overall scene – providing a resource for quickly identifying the best pizza or burger in town or the bigger characterization of what the local dining or retail scene.

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  2. Mark,
    Thanks for the kind words about my piece and idea. It’s still amazing to me the lack of imagination among newspapers, but then again, they were never really set up to innovate in this way. That’s something they are going to have to fix to survive, but time, and the information streams they still have a monopoly over, are both running out.

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  3. One area where Yelp fails is not allowing merchants (restaurants, retail shops, etc.) to offer promotions to local audiences. So, the service, while great for getting a read on the quality of a restaurant or even finding the location or phone number of a business does a poor job of providing timely information–whether it is today’s specials or sale events, etc. And, I’ve heard they put the squeeze on businesses when it comes to removing false reviews (essentially pay to play).
    And, I will bet you that newspapers will soon lose that business as well…

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  4. Hi Darian –
    Yelp actually allows businesses to post promotions (sales and specials, Happy Hours, etc), respond to reviews and provide additional information about their business for free via Yelp for Business Owners – https://biz.yelp.com/: a free suite of tools we launched in April of last year.
    Additionally, Yelp doesn’t engage in pay to play. We don’t remove or reorder reviews for any business whether a Yelp sponsor or not. You can read more about us here: http://www.yelp.com/myths or drop us a line at feedback@yelp.com.
    And Mark, thanks for the post. Should you want to chat about Yelp more, let us know!

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