Wednesday, August 1, 2007

All your base are belong to Craigslist

One of the major factors pointed to in the death of alternative weeklies like the Chicago Reader, along with the stagnation of the traditional newspaper industry, is the decimation of the classified advertising market courtesy of Craigslist. Craigslist, the story goes, offers classifieds for free, while the newspapers charge for theirs. It was a good racket too, the story continues, with newspapers bringing in millions from their classified sections--but now that it's offered for free, newspapers can't compete.

On one level that's true, but having used Craigslist for the first time to sell off some of the Punk Planet office's less desirable objects (a vacuum? some old filing cabinets?) this week, I can tell you that the true power of Craigslist is not simply in the price of the ad: it's the simplicity in placing it and the speed in which it gets answered.

On Craigslist, there's no registration process, you simply write the ad, plug in your e-mail address, and you're essentially done. Because they're not attempting to monetize the process there's no need to collect any more information than that. And once you're done your ad is live immediately--not next week, in the Reader's case, and not tomorrow, as in a daily paper's situation--and it's responded to immediately. I had sold off that old vacuum cleaner approximately five minutes after placing the ad. The filing cabinets took about 15. (Interestingly, the one thing that has yet to sell is a CD player, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the state of the music industry right now.)

That's what's killed print classifieds--the ease and speed of Craigslist. Free factors in for sure, but it's not the thing that keeps people coming back, ease of use and speed of sale is.