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The 19-company Yahoo! newspaper consortium is set to launch beta tests with two newspapers of Content Match, an AdSense-like product. The beta tests are expected to be followed by a launch throughout the entire consortium in September, according to Lee Enterprises VP of Interactive Media Greg Schermer. Schermer, a frequent spokesperson for the consortium, made his comments during a panel discussion at the NAA Marketing Convention this week in Orlando.

While there has reportedly been some tension in the consortium as many newspapers sought shorter terms and opt-in, opt-out rights — and some newspapers missed deadlines — Schermer reflected on its overall progress. The consortium has imposed a real discipline on the newspapers that are participating, and they have improved their response rate, commitment and time to turn around, he said.

It is also making money. Lee, for instance, raised its online rates for recruitment by fivefold. “We thought we’d get more pushback from customers,” but the value of the technologically superior platform, and improved traffic volume, has quickly proved itself, he said.

The consortium deal has always been about much more than HotJobs, Schermer added. “We signed with Yahoo! because we thought there were other possibilities.”

And in fact, three additional contracts have been signed since HotJobs — a graphics ad (i.e., banner) alliance, which he predicted would lead to a national network; a shared content deal across Yahoo! that inserts newspaper headlines and other content into many Yahoo! channels; and the new Content Match product.

As Yahoo! and the consortium have gotten to know each other better, they have gotten the deals done much faster. The HotJobs deal took 18 months to negotiate. That’s not surprising, since there were 18 sets of customers that overlapped. The consequent deals took six months. The consortium has also brought greater commitment to online and discipline among its newspaper members.

But it hasn’t always been easy. “The toughest thing is the data handling,” Schermer said. “It required lots of heavy lifting by the IT staff. Another challenge was setting up financial reporting across the 19 participating companies. There are three, five accounting firms involved,” he noted. Creating an outbound telemarketing team was also a challenge. “[Rival] CareerBuilder is the gold standard.”

But the ease of pricing and training turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Going forward, Schermer expects to see future deals with the consortium to be “less formalistic and more flexible.” The work in developing the Yahoo! tie was also used to good effect in the consortium’s real estate deal with Zillow, which has required data standards to be set for listings, premium listings and EZ Ads.

Schermer did not discuss, however, why the consortium is working with Zillow instead of Yahoo! for real estate, which would appear to have been logical, given the broad relationship. Conflicting reasons have been provided by insiders.

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