New England media blogger Dan Kennedy takes issue with Ryan Sholin over this bit from Ryan’s now famous list of myths newspaper people believe:
It’s not Craig’s fault. Newspaper classifieds suck and they have for years. Either develop simple database applications with photos and maps to let your users actually find what they’re looking for, or partner with a good third-party vertical who can. Anything less is a waste of your time.
And Dan writes:
Uh, actually, it is Craig’s fault. Not in the sense that Craig Newmark did anything anything wrong or evil when he created Craigslist. Rather, I’m talking about a simple reality â€” he and newspapers are in two different businesses, and his business has caused serious damage to the news business.
And I’m here to say, actually, it’s not Craig’s fault. It’s our own damn fault, and I may very well be one to share the blame as much as anybody. I’ve been around long enough to remember what things were like before Craigslist, and while back then I may not have had sufficient power to make a difference, I certainly remember how much newspaper classifieds sucked.
Let’s see, pre-craigslist:
- The only way to place a classified on a newspaper web site was to CALL the newspaper call center and talk with a live person. Forget about 7/24 online ordering.
- If you did place an ad, it wouldn’t appear online until the next day, after the print edition was out.
- The browse and search features initially sucked.
- While I personally don’t quibble with charging more for the online ad, you did have to pay more, which differentiates newspaper classifieds from Craigslist enough to be a factor (but as you can see from this list, just one of many, and I don’t think the deciding factor).
- You couldn’t add a picture, let alone expanded text.
- You couldn’t prefer to have people contact you via e-mail or a blind web form.
- You couldn’t place a risque ad.
- You couldn’t put the ad online for any longer than the print ad ran.
- If you were placing a help wanted ad, newspapers did little or nothing to help you reach qualified job candidates (that actually changed rather quickly in the newspaper game, but initially, it was pretty difficult, and then when it was possible, the additional charge was not competitive with Craigslist or even Monster)
- You couldn’t place your related web URL in the ad.
- Newspaper web sites were not reaching the young audience that was more interested in the kinds of things Craigslist made its name from, like rooms for rent and free stuff.
- You couldn’t place an online-only ad, either paid or, more importantly, for free.
- There has never been a social network associated with placing a classified ad on a newspaper web site (except for a couple of recent exceptions, such as Bakersfield.com).
So there were lots and lots of mistakes newspapers made in the early days of classifieds online, and then when Craigslist began to show some disruptive power, newspapers were slow to react.
That said, Craigslist is not the sum total of the newspaper industry problems. Criagslist actually fills a market need that was not being met at all by newspapers, and only where Craigslist is really, really popular, has it cost newspapers any significant revenue (such as San Francisco). For the most part, Craigslit has expanded the classified market place, not taken a slice of pie from newspapers.
So, sorry, Dan, it’s not Craig’s fault.