Can newspapers rejuvenate or reinvent classified ads?

    by Mark Glaser
    June 2, 2008

    American newspapers are hurting for a number of reasons — loss of readership, the rise of cable TV and online media, and a business model in transition. Many people point to newspapers’ weakness in classified ads as a fatal problem, with revenues lost that used to help support reporting. Now journalist/entrepreneur Steve Outing is helping launch a new site called Reinventing Classifieds, with the hope of fosting a discussion on “how the newspaper industry can resurrect its sagging classifieds sector.” Do you think it’s possible for newspapers to recoup what they’ve lost online to Craigslist and other services? How? If you use non-newspaper sites for classifieds, what would it take to get you to switch back? Or if you stick by newspaper classifieds, tell us why. I’ll run the best responses in the next Your Take Roundup.

    • Online, audience = revenue. Market dominance is no longer defined as being the lucky Joes and Janes with the only printing press in town.

      For newspapers to continue to garner an audience for classifieds, they will need to take the same approach as their competitors – offer inexpensive/free self-serve content (these are no longer ads) placement, enable searches to be converted from local to global, make sure the data are properly identified so that searches can be done by location, product type, price, etc. Revenue is obviously the tricky spot. Can one make enough money with context-sensitive ads, paid search results, general interest display advertising, etc. to make up for that which is lost in the conversion to a lower/no revenue model?

      But, this raises what I consider to be an obvious point. It makes little sense to “help support reporting” with revenues from a product completely unassociated with what reporting. If reporters were writing content augmenting the classified section, then using classified revenue to support journalism would make sense. This simply is not the case (with a few exceptions).

      The measure of a news Website’s value should be based on reporting-related revenues. Context sensitive ads, paid search results, general interest display advertising, etc.


      Stop treating classified listings as ads – they’re content.

      Stop expecting classifieds to pay for reporters – make them self-sustaining.

      Stop printing classifieds daily, it’s expensive and silly.

    • Give away the classifieds, Craigslist-style. No point in competing on price or core functionality.

      Newspapers need to decide whether they are in [1] the sustainable community service business or 2[] the shareholder profits business.

      If the former, then provide a quality classifieds service that’s more controlled and edited and local than Craigslist. Treat it as content, as Mr. Nott recommended. Talk about crowdsourcing! The listings would be part of a whole new business model focused on the local area via online services and limited print services.

      If the latter, then ride this print machine into the ground. When it’s no longer profitable, close your doors and walk away.

      Google is kicking ass because they have the most efficient means for distributing ads across a vast search and content kingdom. But to date, their service is not highly localized in terms of relevance. As advertisers seek better and better returns, old-school newspapers that transform themselves stand to make a bundle if they can build a legitimate and regular local audience.

      Public media and newspapers are really in the same situation here — either get local and relevant and “real” or just close up shop.

    • First: didn’t you hear? Captchas don’t stop spam and discourage commenting…

      I’m going to join Oodle.com and Wal-mart will save us.

    • Sarah

      Sorry, newspapers: too little, too late.

      Instead of sifting through the classifieds, I use Craigslist to find what I need, Half.com to bargain hunt the stuff I covet, and eBay to seek out the things I can’t find anywhere else. (Then, I log on to TheLadders to figure out a better way to pay for it all.)

      Don’t worry, print media! I still read the PennySaver to figure out which yard sales to go to on Saturday morning.

      Honestly, though, is THIS supposed to be useful to anyone?

      Classified advertising is by the people, for the people. It simply doesn’t fit in the old model.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media