If Craigslist is killing the newspaper classified business, then it appears that newspapers’ real missed opportunity may be in failing to provide a sufficiently conducive environment for seeking and selling sex and love.
Reading this analysis by Compete (see chart below) was one of those "Doh! Of course!" moments (and, as a commenter on the Compete post points out, obvious to anyone who bothers to look at listing counts on Craigslist). Sex-related content has lead every technological revolution in media. Why should classifieds be any different?
To get a sense for how newspapers measure up again Craigslist, I checked out the personal ads on the New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. So what’s the big difference between web-native Craigslist and the newspapers’ online version of their print cash cow?
Craigslist is an open platform.
The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle required registration, clearly with the intent of legitimizing all participants in the personals marketplace. The Chronicle’s registration process is quite intensive, with minimum word requirements for describing yourself. The New York Times has this barrier:
To respond to an ad call: 1-900-226-7144 ($2.99 /min with a $2.00 connection fee.) Must be 18 years or older to call. Charges are accrued for each minute for the duration of the call. If you would like to pay via credit card: 1-866-423-7761 ($3.49 per minute)
On Craigslist you post for free, and respond for free by email — quick, easy, no friction.
The big question, of course, is this: Is Craigslist better because it has no bariers or standards, or worse? I guess it all depends on who you are and what you’re seeking.
Newspapers probably have the right positioning with their barriers to entry for personals — TRUST is the only reason to choose a familiar local newspaper brand over Craigslist. If you don’t want a newspaper acting as a filter in your quest for intimacy, you’d better be prepared to BYOFilter.
In any case, Compete also points out interestingly that Craiglist, for all its glorification, hasn’t cornered the classified market for everything:
Local news, business supplies for sale, real estate and web design are probably better off advertising somewhere else since they contribute less than a whisper to the overall site traffic.