By Greg Michael
This week, Craigslist increased the number of towns it serves in the U.S. by 50 percent to 300. For the first time, this huge online company with only two dozen employees is going head-to-head with the small daily and weekly newspapers across the U.S. who, up to now, have been immune to any major threats from Web companies.
For the first time, this huge online company with only two dozen employees is going head-to-head with the small daily and weekly newspapers across the U.S., which have been immune to any major threats from Web companies.
More than 10 million users visit Craigslist.org sites every month. By almost any survey, Craigslist is a phenomenal success. It is the seventh-most-popular Web site in the world, according to recent studies. The free online-classifieds site has become the nightmare of newspaper executives wherever it launches a new list. If you are looking for housing, furniture, romance and even the humorous "missed connections" — a feature seen in big city weeklies posted by shy romantics.
This week's expansion was even covered by the Wall Street Journal. That shows you that Craigslist is top-of-mind with newspapers. What does it matter? Newspapers in 100 more cities will be having huddles with their yes-men and women, remarking that it won’t mean a thing. The advertising managers in those meetings will be the “negative thinkers.” They will be the first to see the real threat in the coming months, as their real estate, automotive, employment and personals begin to migrate and dwindle.
The San Francisco Chronicle invited Craig Newmark, the ‘Craig’ of Craigslist.org to speak at one of the paper’s lunchtime newsmakers luncheons a few months ago. A friend of mine told me that during the meeting, a mix of editorial, marketing and advertising people, he was both loved and hated. One of the biggest laughs came when a copy editor asked, “You took our classifieds, are you going after our news next?”
The sad bastard was serious. Of course, the always charming Newmark said he wasn’t interested in becoming a news source, but he didn’t intentionally plan to steal away the paper’s classifieds either. He did mention that the users will determine what’s next. The market decides. He built his site and people came. And he only charges companies. Individuals can post for free. Newmark knows something important that many journalists do not, that classifieds have a strong readership all their own.
"The Internet at large, and free classifieds in particular — Craigslist free classifieds …certainly pose challenges to the newspaper industry as far as being able to raise their profitability over time," said Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist CEO in an interview with Brian Carney of Wall Street Journal. "The demise of the newspaper has been overstated," Buckmaster reassuringly said to Carney. “Phew,” chukled Carney to himself. Was he satisfied with that answer? About as much as the newspaper people in the Chronicle’s lunch meeting, (a room that was not long ago used for inserting flyers into both the Chronicle and Examiner). More on that breakup, later.