Small ads are big business. And what makes specialist ad magazines more interesting than most is that the paper publications take all three possible forms: those that take paid ads but are given away, those that carry ads free but charge a cover price and those that charge both the advertiser and the reader. Which business model will make it on the Web?

The granddaddy of them all, Exchange & Mart, happily exploits the third model. Sadly, the Web site (http://www.exchangeandmart.co.uk) confines itself to cars and related goodies. But all the ads in the paper edition are here - laying the foundation for a site that will sell cars more effectively than the paper publication, at a fraction of the cost.

When you go into the car finder section of the site, you can limit your search to a region of the UK as well as a particular make, model and age of car. When you get the results, links next to each ad take you to a price guide for the model concerned and to a page of relevant buying guidance. Cute ideas, but the guidance is laughably useless in the case of the Audi 80s I was looking at.

Having found your car, further interactive pages will get you quotes for finance and insurance.

Autotrader resembles a specialist motoring version of E&M, but with pictures; again, both the advertiser and the reader pay. Its site (http://www.autotrader.co.uk) covers prestige car ads selected from its fortnightly offshoot, Top Marques, and from Bike Trader, and takes two forms: a "cutting-edge graphic site, with animation and multi-view browse", which is a hideous waste of bandwidth, or a greatly preferable "fast-loading text site" where pictures are downloaded only on demand, instead of bringing your modem to its knees. Both sides of the site have search facilities a bit like E&M's.

The highly successful Loot, now spreading beyond the South-east, carries ads free. It has a good-looking site (http://www.lootlink.com) carrying much more than cars, with a sensible structure. You go through two layers of classified heading, then browse the ads or search on particular words. But the implementation is less sensible. You want a pool table; would you look under health and fitness?

Once in the right department, you'll find several slate beds for sale - despite the disappointing fact that the site contains only a limited selection from the ads in the paper. This answers the obvious question about the Loot site: if the ads and the site are free, how do they make a living? They make it, still, from the sales of the paper. Loot will start charging for ads when the Web starts to take over. The only question is, when?

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