Local Publishers Can Hold Against Craigslist

    January 29, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Somewhere at the top of the Silicon Valley, Craigslist has upset the status quo of publishing; only the most dedicated websites can survive the hazardous venture into the Valley and face down the Colonel Kurtz of online classifieds.

"Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...strangers hand
In a...desperate land"
-- "The End," The Doors, 1967

Laying around on a cot under a slowly rotating ceiling fan while Jim Morrison sings on a transistor radio that’s older than one’s parents won’t help a local-oriented publisher, online or off, survive the challenge of free online classifieds.

That was what Classified Intelligence found when studying a dozen new Craigslist communities, comprised of US states and international properties over an 18-month period. Although Craigslist did not have as much impact on small and medium communities, it impacted large metropolitan-area markets greatly.

Passivity is not the desired response. An active approach worked for a pair of newspapers to keep them competitive with Craigslist. Knoxville’s News Sentinel saw its ads for “stuff” plunge by 80 percent four months after Craigslist came to town:

But then News Sentinel counterpunched. It began offering free merchandise ads on anything costing less than $10,000 and allowing multiple items in a single ad. And it launched a marketing campaign in print, on billboards and online. “Merchandise listings soared,” said Deanene Light, the paper’s recruitment and call center manager, and Kathy Tennant, online director.

Though they still trail Craigslist, the paper has made gains and is moving up. Further south in Mobile, Alabama, the Press-Register has not only held its own, but leads Craigslist in merchandise listings. Classified Intelligence noted it was the only English-language location studied that did so:

Mobile is a gritty industrial town, with a large blue-collar workforce and an average number of college graduates – less-than-ideal demographics for Craigslist. Still, the newspaper was quick to respond to Craigslist’s launch. It combined its listings with those of a nearby sister paper, increased its price threshold for free private-party ads to $200 and extended the run by two days.

In both successful cases, the papers managed to at least stop their losses by acting to make their offerings more competitive. It only takes a few months for Craigslist to catch up to the established players when it enters a market. That’s time the locals need to spend acting quickly to keep pace.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.