When you hear about the death of newspapers, the finger-pointing almost always aims at Craigslist. You know, before Craigslist local newspapers made a ton of cash from the local classified ads. Now, not so much.
So I'm here with some really good news for local newspapers. While you were busy wringing your hands, Craigslist jumped the shark.
Evidence: Last week I tried to sell a digital camera on Craigslist. I priced it fairly, posted in my neighborhood, and said "cash only, local only." But one day later the three buyers that had contacted me all were buying for their brother, son or friend overseas, and while they "lived in my neighborhood," they were all out of town and would need to pay by Paypal and have me ship overseas.
They read like this one: "Thanks for your mail, i am buying the item for my son who school in oversea.i will add $140 for shipping,i will have do it local transaction but i am out of town presently...so you can get me back with your paypal email account so i can pay now.hope to hear from you soon - best regard email@example.com"
All three offers. Exact same text. All three scams.
Then, this week, I went looking to buy a local laptop on Craigslist. Great news, you can buy an Apple Macbook Pro for $329.00 -- as long as you're willing to log in and join a buyers club (paid) and translate a site that is written in Japanese. Here again, there are multiple listings, all scams.
Oh, and then there's the sex. You've read about that. Craigslist has an 'adult' section that is now almost entirely local 'out call' prostitution and other barter sex stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not the kind of place you'd go to sell your son's gently used mountain bike. I tried. No buyers.
So, what does this mean? It means that Craigslist (and EBay for that matter) have taught a generation that the things they're not using any longer have cash value - and that using the web you can find local folks who need what you no longer want, and they'll pay a fair price in cash.
But both Craigslist and EBay have allowed their marketplaces to become flooded with scams, porn, and noise. Now, consumers looking for a fair local deal are going to start to look for safe sales communities in and around their back yard.
Hmm... I wonder who has an ad sales operation, a local base, and the ability to publish information on a daily basis. Hmm...
Yup - that's right. Local newspapers should get BACK into the local classified business. And fast.
In fact, they can grab a page from the Craigslist handbook -- and use what Craigslist has taught us all about buying and selling stuff around town.
My advice to newspapers would be, first, to make sure to start with 'free' as a base. Then they could provide services like escrow, identity protection, and some element of policing to provide a 'safe, well-lit place' to make their local on-line classifieds better than Craigslist. For example, why not say that first time users (whose emails are not 'trusted' ) have to be approved by a human before the ads go live. Trusted users (paid?) go live immediately. There was a time when Craig Numark talked about starting a venture to 're-invent' journalism. Here's an idea: why not let the 'local' portion of Craigslist be run by a local newspaper franchise? That way, rather than let a laissez-faire national classified system devolve into spam, scams and porn, he can save the real value of Craigslist, which is local, and give local newspapers a desperately needed revenue stream.
The moral of this story is that local revenue businesses need local owner/managers in order to remain well ordered and properly overseen. Craigslist needs a local operation, or they're going to be overtaken by a new emergence of a local solution.
Either way, I wouldn't write off the local newspaper business so quickly -- there's a huge local opportunity right around the corner.
Steven Rosenbaum is the CEO and Co-Founder of Magnify.net - a fast-growing video publishing platform that powers more than 50,000 web sites, media companies, and content entrepreneurs to aggregate and curate web video from a wide variety of web sources. Currently Magnify.net publishes over 50,000 channels of Curated-Consumer Video, and is working closely with a wide variety of media makers, communities, and publishers in evolving their content offerings to include content created by, sorted and reviewed by community members. Rosenbaum is a serial entrepreneur, Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker, and well know innovator in the field of user-generated media production. Rosenbaum Directed and Executive Produced the critically acclaimed 7 Days In September, and his MTV Series Unfiltered is widely regarding as the first commercial use of Consumer Generated Video in US mass media. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org