Judy’s Book Shutting Down

The image “http://images.judysbook.com/members/judysbook-onsale.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.TechCrunch reports that Judy’s Book CEO Andy Sack has said that the company will be shutting down. I’m surprised by this and have asked Sack directly for confirmation (confirmed below). I’m surprised in part because the site was in the midst of something of a relaunch around its new coupons-deals business model.

Sack has been very forthright about what he did right and wrong with the original Judy’s Book model and displayed unusual wisdom in deciding to change the model after he saw what the company was doing wasn’t working.

How should the apparently demise of Judy’s Book be seen, especially in the wake of the sale of InsiderPages to Citysearch/IAC? In the fragmented market of local, getting traffic and advertisers is very challenging. But the greatest challenge is around monetization. Sack wrote about that on his personal blog when the site shifted its model.

As with the sale of InsiderPages, one could write a story about the impatience of boards and investors, or about the presence of larger competitors who have established sales channels or who can bring scale to local that startups cannot.

TechCrunch says that “Yelp is the last of the local review sites standing.” That’s not exactly true. Citysearch is one of the original local review sites and it’s still around. And there are many other sites that offer community or local reviews. Yelp is just the most prominent of the class of startups that began a couple of years ago, and which included InsiderPages and Judy’s Book. But more recently sites like Marchex’s OpenList, Outside.in and, more recently CityVoter, among others, have emerged to take on local.

The demand for trustworthy local information online isn’t going away. But it may be that for startups (as opposed to companies that can subsidize it) there’s not enough runway and too little room for error in a market that its very difficult to crack.

But, once again, local is where the money changes hands — it’s the “last mile of search.”

Update: Sack posts about the closure on his blog here:

Today was a tough day. For the second time in my life I had to tell a great team of people that the idea they’d worked so hard on was going away. After 3+ years, our management team and board of directors has decided to scale back our operations at Judy’s Book and seek a strategic acquiror.

As a CEO, I know this is the right thing to do for our investors. But as an entrepreneur it’s disappointing to stop chasing an idea just when it’s beginning to take root in the popular consciousness.

Update 2: Kudzu and SmallTown (and Angie’s List) should have been mentioned as local sites that are going strong (as the comments suggest). It’s also quite possible that Judy’s Book will live on if acquired. I think the site had really yet to explore the potential success of its new coupons-deals model. And as I’ve said before I think there is still a largely untapped opportunity to aggregate coupons in a consumer destination (I’m not talking about Coupons.com).

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19 Responses to “Judy’s Book Shutting Down”

  1. Andrew Goodman Says:

    One way to sum this up would be to say it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Or that you can be right about something, too early. It was unfortunate that Judy’s Book had to shift to the coupon and deal space so soon instead of just developing on its own. Some investors are willing to defer monetization – others are not.

    Similar to Yelp, and again more proof that Yelp is not the only one “left standing,” is a spunky local review site called OurFaves.com. It’s controlled by a big media company. Although this may not mean the site has “deep pockets” per se, it could be more patient money. Developing user loyalty and a brand takes time, in local search or any other business.

    ZipLocal is another (Canadian based) local search site that is ramping up. The model doesn’t look too rich yet, but they are relaunching the site and are aiming at this same space of rich content about local merchants and happenings.

  2. Peter Caputa Says:

    hmm. This is interesting. If there’s anything I’ve learned from launching a local online service – it is that mass awareness and mass traffic doesn’t come easy. Once you got off the internet (or more aptly – beyond the web geek community), things don’t spread as quickly. Non native web users are not quick to try new things and are initially very skeptical.

    I’m still waiting for that HUGE viral local web service/app/site to hit. Citysearch is certainly the first and smost uccessful, but there hasn’t been the hotmail, google, facebook of local yet – who get person to person viral traffic. There are startups dancing around the next step in local, though like topix, cityvoter, grayboxx and yelp. I wonder if the killer service will need to be complex and integrate all kinds of data, algorothms, content and community… OR if it’ll be more like del.icio.us: stripped down with a single purpose and simple to use.

    The killer question and problem is still: How do I find the best [local] person or business that can help me buy a house, fix my car, order italian take out, get the right payroll service, a trustworthy accountant, etc.

    There’s still no place to go online to answer all of those questions. So, people just go to google still. There’s certainly better options out there. But, will the average person ever know to go to AngiesList to find a contractor, Yelp to find a good restaurant or to tripadvisor to find a hotel?

  3. Hal Rucker Says:

    Hello, Smalltown here ;-)

    http://www.smalltown.com has user generated content in the form of reviews and recommendations, and we’re doing very well in terms of site metrics and sales.

    view our customer testimonials: http://www.smalltown.com/theater_smalltown.html

    Our best wishes to all the folks who worked so hard at Judy’s Book.

  4. AhmedF Says:

    I think people are making a serious mistake under-estimating Kudzu. It gets zero attention, but it has a pretty damn nice product (and their uptake in their native Atlanta has been extremely impressive).

  5. earlpearl Says:

    It was painful to read the personal blog by Andy Sack. Difficult to engage and keep visitors, difficult to get income from businesses and even get the attention of business operators, and difficult when a significant volume of the traffic came predominantly from google.

    All of which are lessons for future efforts. Having been a salesperson on the street, I can vouch for the difficulty on step 2.

    Boy oh boy. I’d start in one community and tackle all those issues over and over again in that community (preferably a major metro area) before expanding elsewhere. When I looked at entries in my region, (Washington DC) and specifically for something in the Arlington suburb–I focused on the latest 3 reviews–all for the same business and all from reviewers who had signed up this month.

    How spammy is that. I’d guess it would be better to ban that kind of obvious effort to sway the site than allow it to sit and be viewed. That is an example of the difficulty on the first item referenced by Andy-> getting committed passionate visitors.

    If anything going forward, there is value in the search phrases of the 30% of the traffic that came from google.

    Sorry to read about this demise.

    Dave

  6. Luis Pereira Says:

    We’re taking a different approach to local search by allowing users to post their local search needs and then alerting all local businesses of matching posts in real-time. We’re providing this as a free service to all local businesses and currently have over 15 million business listings in our database.

  7. Steve Says:

    It seems to me that at some point a real business has to think about how it will make money.

    I realize it’s become popular again to focus only on audience. But an ability to sell and service advertisers is part of the equation too (at least at some point).

    Now, if the idea is to be bought out, then perhaps you should shy away from revenue. There was a funny quote in the NY Times recently from someone at Right Media saying that the financing game is best played by avoiding actual revenues “since that only limits the imagination of investors”.

    Two interesting folks to watch are Angie’s List and Kudzu.com They both appear to be trying to build a business — not just an audience (although I definitely agree that audience is critical).

    Angie has a subscription model for consumers, while Kudzu.com is built as much from business profiles (free and paid) — as it is from consumer reviews.

    Of course, Angie will have to see if consumers will want to keep paying for data that is increasingly free. And Kudzu will have to see if it can expand from Atlanta where it is very, very deep. Other than a handful of other markets (Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Diego) the rest of the country is still lean.

    Oh and then there’s SuperPages. It probably would be better not to have the print albatross. But last time I checked they actually made money.

  8. earlpearl Says:

    Luis:

    That is pretty nifty. Do you have customer activity at this point and if so how are you getting it? Free is a painless way to build a business data base. It really is a nifty idea.

  9. Luis Pereira Says:

    Dave:

    We have very little customer activity and traction at this time. We’re still in our very early stages and currently testing our marketing strategies and website concept among a handful of small communities.

  10. shiv chandrasekaran Says:

    We are an aggregation site for local kids’ event planners. The opportunity is huge because small businesses spend significant amount of time educating customers about their products or services, and this time is better spent making products or delivering services.

    Reputation management is just one aspect of this inefficiency. Other areas of inefficiency include –
    * A clear description of products and services customers can choose and get information for ( an automated rate quote).
    * How a small business’ service or product can be packaged with other complementary services to deliver a product of higher value at a lower cost (dinner at a restaurant, movie and dessert at another place).
    * For services, inherent hurdles like payment of deposit, signing of contracts etc, which are done offline.

    While the customers are ready to embrace booking services online based on social recommendations, small business service-providers are still web-averse probably because they haven’t yet seen the value provided by online presence.

    We hope to see this tipping point sooner rather than later.

  11. shiv chandrasekaran Says:

    I meant the “local search opportunity” is huge…

  12. Toren Ajk Says:

    We’re a music site, http://www.epitunes.com, with a strong focus on the local music scenes around the US. We’re struggling with many of the same issues, namely getting venues involved and local users to be active members.

    Everyone knows that local is the great untapped frontier for Internet advertising but getting people to get involved has proven to be difficult for both the general local information aggregators such as Judy’s Book and Insider Pages and traditional Yellow Page companies trying to transition to online. My gut says it will remain a difficult market for aggregators until 3G cell phones become the norm and people start using cell phones consistently to access information.

    In order for users to get involved there has to be more of an immediate cause/effect means of interacting. When the cell phone is the medium for access that immediacy is achieved and I think local review sites will become far more popular.

  13. ServiceMagic a Local Success Story « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] the heels of the news about Judy’s Book I feel it’s important to point out local Internet success stories. ServiceMagic is one of [...]

  14. Closing Judy’s Book at How to Start a Two-Bit Operation: Small Business Tips Says:

    [...] funded startups that used to be in the local review space, Judy’s Book, decided that it was time to close shop. Judy’s Book started as a local review site where consumers could rate and review things like [...]

  15. » The REAL Problem with Local Search | SMB Web Design + SEO Says:

    [...] closing/aggressive-sale-mode announcement about Judy’s Book yesterday made a number of waves around the SEO community as a bellwether [...]

  16. David Rodecker Says:

    Seems to me that users are moderately fulfilled with their online local search experience. Sure there are 100’s of ways to improve it, but within a few seconds you can get much more information that the traditional 411 call.

    Local businesses, however, are substantially missing from most opportunities to advertise online. Where do you want to be found today?

  17. Drill Down on WebVisible Local Data « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] Down on WebVisible Local Data Last week, Judy’s Book joined the list of companies that have tried but stumbled or wiped out in local. The market’s [...]

  18. Edgeio Shutting Down « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] becomes the latest local site to shut its doors. Judy’s Book also announced it was closing quite recently. Before Judy’s Book, it was Backfence and InsiderPages, though the latter was [...]

  19. Michelle Johns Says:

    I know this is off the subject but I found this website by searching on Bing for hotel marketing. How did you optimize your webpage to rank so high in the search engine results?

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