Selling Land

What is Black and White and Read All Over?

What is black and white and read all over?

Well, apparently it’s not the newspaper anymore. As a culture we have completely shifted away from something we once thought was essential to our way of life. It was our window into the world. Newspapers held our leaders accountable by reporting of their plans and actions. Conversations around town centered on articles that appeared there. One of the most iconic images of the American way of life is the picture of dad sitting in his chair with the dog laying beside him on the floor, while he smoked his pipe, warmed himself by the fire, and read the newspaper. Responsible citizens had to read the newspaper. Socialites needed to read the newspaper. Businesses loved to use the newspaper…which brings me around to my point. “Finally!”, you say, “Robert, I agree with you but what in the world does that have to do with land?!?”. I’m glad you asked. I’m tired of wasting hard earned money advertising your property in the newspaper to make you feel better. It ain’t gonna work no more!

The way we consume information has changed dramatically. We have more and more individual control over what information we choose to ingest. People simply are not choosing the newspaper as their source of information any longer. When it comes to information about land, the land market, and what’s for sale, the Internet is King. Newspapers are simply a jester in his court today. “Now Robert, What have you got against newspapers?”. Nothing. I like them. I’m a bit antiquated and like reading them. They are comfortable to me. I understand and like that the editor will throw his particular bent into the facts and pass it off as unbiased. Come to think of it, that’s probably much worse in the way we consume info today. I’m biased. You should go out and buy land. Right Now!

Back to the subject at hand. Newspaper ads don’t sell your property anymore. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that the classified ad in the major metropolitan newspaper nearest to the property was once the standard-bearer for most brokers. If you wanted to make the telephone ring at the office, you simply placed an ad in the classifieds, and thousands upon thousands of people saw the ad. The phone would ring non-stop with a well-worded few lines and a toll-free number for them to call. It was the way business was done. Brokers have always known this was better for prospecting than selling a particular property, but sellers demanded it anyway. Brokers provided it, and that was that. Today sellers still ask for it, because that’s what they are “supposed” to ask their agent to do for them. The results are dramatically different. I’ve known this for quite some time, as has anyone else in the business, but the listing public still does not collectively “know” this. As an example, our company recently began marketing a major landholding in Alabama. The seller asked that we provide newspaper advertising in addition to all of our other marketing efforts. We wanted the listing, and agreed to do so. So we ramped up on the opening week of college football…the one time of year when newspaper sales is the highest in the South. We ran ads that weekend in several metro-areas in the Southeast. Thousands of dollars spent, thousands of newspapers printed. Not One Call!…even with the toll-free number. Not one. This type of campaign would have generated a hundred calls or more at one time. The world is different today.

Our world is filled with advertisements. People are largely either oblivious or completely resistant to it now. Numb might be a good word. Until someone is ready to consume your particular advertisement, or they independently recognize their need for your product, it’s very hard to squeeze into their consciousness. They have to choose to let you in. If they let in a tenth of the information they are hit with a day, they feel is if they will explode. But they crave information that they deem important. They will search it out. They value information from people they have deemed important to them. Think Google and Facebook. You came to this blog because you value land information. How many other opportunities to take in advertisements and information are all around you, as you read this, that you have chosen to block out in favor of land-related information? Newspapers are part of the old world of information that was given to us in broad strokes. People are looking for a fine-point pen. The Internet allows that. People can search out the particular information that they want to consume. That information is highly valuable to them. They read it, study it, validate it, use it, and believe it. Newspapers no longer have that power. This is the strength of property listing sites such as The people that are there have a desire to consume the information they find there. They have the potential to reach literally billions of people…not the thousands of a major metro newspaper. That’s why I want to invest my money to promote your property there. Every dollar I spend there is worth at least $1,000 spent in newspaper advertising. It’s that much more valuable to you too, Mr. Seller.

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About the author

Robert King

Robert is a Land Agent with Southeastern Land Group. He specializes in helping buyers and sellers of farms, poultry operations, and timberland throughout Alabama and Georgia. Robert is a regular contributor on The Land Show radio program and the Southeastern Land Group Blog.


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  • I think advertising in the newspaper certainly isn’t the main avenue for marketing rural land anymore. I would also say I am grateful to be going to the closing table next week from an ad we placed in the Tuscaloosa News, and we had under contract 6 days from placing the ad and 13 days from listing because we marketed it there.

    I’ve spent $320 this month on ads in the Birmingham News, and generated 3 phone calls. I can advertise on the 5 biggest land websites for almost two months for that amount of money. It is expensive, but my first sale ($550,000) came out of a newspaper ad. This is a question I have been wanting to ask Ryan to put in next year’s LT survey. Do you look at land ads in the newspaper?

    Overall I agree with your premise. It is a lot like dangling a bare hook in the water with no bait. No pictures, no maps, nothing but some great feature (river frontage, national forest, etc…) or a great price to grab someone’s attention.

    Thanks for letting all of sellers know why their land won’t be in the paper every week.

  • This one needs a Split Like/Unlike button! Like those license plates for fans from two colleges in the same state that say a house divided and have both college mascots on it (here in Kansas that would be the KU Jayhawks and the K-State Wildcats).

    I agree newspaper ads do not work in metro areas (like Kansas City or Wichita). However, out in here the tumbleweeds of Kansas where there are about 5000 people spread out across a county the local newspaper is still the gold standard of local news communication and usually it only comes out once a week.

    As rural America gets more quality broadband access that may change but for now in extreme rural areas the local county newspaper is still useful in the tool bag and it is “dirt” cheap for a classified.

  • Thanks for the comments, Jonathan and Marisa. Traditionally, the land market that I work in has been highly influenced at the metro-regional area…to the extent that we have had very little local market for a long, long time. I am seeing a shift to a slightly more localized market here, but the economics are still not in favor of a radical shift. In large part…probably 90%+ of the families in my market are not able to purchase 40+ acres and a home. In terms of purchasing power, but certainly not in terms of the quality of people, we are largely lower middle class. These facts add up to my perspective on the market. We don’t have a strong agricultural base here. We are forestry-based, which does not require the more well-to-do owners of forestland to actually be present in our area. Farming is a different matter entirely. I’m certainly not stating that farmers are rich, but most live a fairly well-adjust middle to upper middle class lifestyle. This is certainly a strength of communities built around agriculture.

    Maybe that helps explain my viewpoint a bit better. I really like our local paper. As I stated in the article, I’m a fan. I just see the results of the marketing efforts that have been traditional to the land business falling off a cliff. If I have $1 to spend marketing a property, I have to decide what method has the best results. For me, and I expect many rural markets heavily influenced by urban areas, that’s not in the newspaper anymore.

  • And for those that would state it…I do realize the irony of my stating our economy is built around forestry, and stating that newspaper marketing of real estate here is functionally obsolescent.

  • Robert,
    Agreed 100% that farmland is a different market especially the auction aspect. I love the irony of timber and paper. I’ll start a newspaper for land ads if anyone wants to advertise their building lots that have about a 80 year re-absorption rate! 😀

  • For what it’s worth the tract I am closing next week is a 61 acre cattle farm we advertised in the paper.

  • After a fifteen year absence we were recently persuaded to invest in a newspaper/ newspaper-magazine/newspaper-website campagn with our local newspaper in Spartanburg, SC. (Upstate SC) Just looked at the numbers this morning and they stink.

    Great article…and a very accurate assessment of the diminished return we receive on advertising dollars spent with the local papers. However, if its mobile home lots you are selling………

Pulse Question

Should game wardens have the right to search and surveil private property without a warrant?


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