National online bulletin board threatens to steal ad revenue
The popular Craigslist website, known for its salacious personals and volumes of employment, housing and sales classifieds in anchor cities such as San Francisco and New York, is conducting a blitzkrieg expansion, adding dozens of world population centers and mid-sized American cities, including Greensboro, in recent months.
The website, run by 18 employees out of a Victorian house in San Francisco, is costing newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area millions of dollars a year in lost advertising revenue, and its appearance in Greensboro has grabbed the attention of the News & Record and other local publications that rely on advertising revenue.
Craigslist, which functions as a sprawling online bulletin board for transacting goods and services through barter and sale, sharing information and connecting people to each other, was started by computer programmer Craig Newmark in 1995 to inform friends about upcoming events. Now in more than 100 cities around the world, Craigslist describes its goal as providing ‘“a trustworthy, efficient, relatively non-commercial place for folks to find all the basics in their local area.’”
The website eschews banner advertisements and relies solely on revenue from help-wanted ads. Job recruiters pay $75 per advertisement to post on the site. The company boasts that it receives 2 billion page hits per month. Users sell musical instruments and other goods, seek out sexual partners, discuss issues such as noise violations from motorcycles, arrange rideshares, and initiate any number of other activities. Like many other interpersonal online forums Craigslist assigns anonymous e-mail addresses to users, who can identify themselves to each other off the list if they choose.
On the San Francisco site, which is now 10 years old, help-wanted ads purchased by employment recruiters constitute the largest share of posts.
‘“Craigslist is costing newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area 50 to 60 million dollars a year in recruitment ad revenue,’” said Peter M. Zollman, executive editor of the Florida-based consulting firm Classified Intelligence. His company recently published a report, priced at $250, called Competing with Craig: Strategies and tactics for battling Craigslist and its counterparts. A teaser for the report asks: ‘“Is the Craigslist juggernaut unstoppable? If so, should you be joining forces?’”
The Greensboro Craigslist site was launched in the last month of April, said publicist Susan MacTavish Best. Other cities added include Lexington, Ky.; Little Rock, Ark.; Birmingham, Ala.; Shanghai, China; Barcelona, Spain and New Delhi.
Best said Craigslist relies on word of mouth to advertise its service to potential users.
The News & Record is closely watching Craigslist and developing plans to defend its market share, said Classified Advertising Manager Catherine Kernels.
‘“We currently dominate the market and they’re the threat,’” she said. ‘“We have a plan that will certainly address it. There are a million different websites that are threatening the market. There’s eBay and Monster, and Craigslist is certainly the biggest monster.’”
Similar to its editorial side, which has added editor and reporter blogs to adapt to the demands of the internet age, the News & Record’s classified advertising department now posts all its content online. The newspaper has a dedicated employment classified website called TriadCareers, which is by far the largest listing of job ads in the region, currently listing 821 jobs.
Weekly publications that serve Greensboro boast much smaller classified sections.
Other internet companies are already trying to carve up local markets long dominated by daily newspapers. EBay, which allows users to auction merchandise, operates on a national level. So does Monster, a nationwide help-wanted directory. A search for Greensboro jobs at the Monster site also results in listings for Charlotte, Raleigh and other parts of North Carolina, however, making it less specific than the News & Record’s site.
Other companies, such as Philadelphia-based RegionalHelpWanted, are customizing their employment listings to local regions. RegionalHelpWanted’s local site, PiedmontHelpWanted, lists 135 Greensboro jobs.
Kernels declined to disclose the News & Record’s plan for warding off Craigslist’s market grab, but said part of the newspaper’s print and online classified strength is its credibility.
‘“We think this has a pretty good value proposition and we have a name that a lot of people trust,’” she said. ‘“Our ads don’t go into the paper without people reading them. We aren’t able to validate the products and services of every single item but we do set some standards, and that sets our product apart.’”
So far, Craigslist’s Greensboro site is getting light traffic. As of May 3, only 26 jobs ‘—a fraction of the 821 listed by the News & Record’s site ‘— were listed on Craigslist-Greensboro, many of which are located in Pittsburgh and have already expired. Those 26 jobs represent only slightly more than $2,000 in revenue to Craigslist, according to a quick calculation. The jobs advertised on the site call for people with a variety of skills, from technicians who can thread textile machines in Randolph County, to outgoing people willing to work as tobacco marketing reps by interacting with bar patrons on nights and weekends in Greensboro.
The ‘gigs’ section features more exotic lines of work, such as an opportunity for women aged 25 to 40 to compete for a slot hosting a cable television fashion show, and offers for training in bull riding and whitewater rafting guiding.
If other cities are any indication, the Greensboro site has potential to grab a significant share of the employment advertising market. Craigslist’s Charlotte site, which was launched in February 2004, lists 382 jobs. The San Francisco site, the oldest and largest, lists 18,171 jobs.
In contrast to Craigslist’s more established sites, where most of the posts are in the ‘jobs’ section, the most popular section for Greensboro is ‘services,’ followed by ‘personals,’ attesting to the eternal human quest for meaningful and remunerative work, and for companionship.
In addition to proofreaders and web designers advertising their talents, the ‘services’ section includes an ad headed ‘erotic hypnosis,’ which promises ‘“Greensboro Gentlemen’” help ‘“with loneliness, stress relief and fantasy realization.’” Postings in the ‘financial services’ subsection appear to be little different than the spam that clogs a typical user’s inbox, with headers such as ‘“EARN SIX FIGURES WITH US!’” and ‘“MAKE CASH FAST!’”
Likewise, the ‘community’ section is loaded down with quack financial quick-buck schemes, as well as posts urging readers to combat outsourcing by buying US-made products and an advertisement for an organization set up to combat world hunger. A more site-specific post was made by an anarchist couple seeking a ride from Asheville to Boulder, Colo.
The most lively conversation on Craigslist-Greensboro has taken place so far in the ‘rants and raves’ subsection. The majority of the posts have been made by either newcomers to the Triad or natives who have since left North Carolina. The theme of the discussion has been what there is to do for fun in the Triad and whether or not the area sucks.
‘“So far, the people I’ve met outside of work sort of scare me: people my age who think they’re still in college or people who let their girlfriends dictate who they can be friends with,’” wrote one poster who recently moved to Winston-Salem in a message headed: ‘“What the Hell Have I Done?’”
‘“I’ll give it more time and do my best,’” the poster continues, ‘“but if things don’t change in a couple of months, I’m going to be high-tailing it out of here.’”
Another poster, who grew up in Winston-Salem and now lives in Boston, urges patience: ‘“The South has a lot to offer by ways of culture, even though you’ve probably been brought up to believe otherwise. In fact, if I were to compare the South’s ‘personality’ with, say, Boston’s, Boston’s pales greatly.’”
The exchange represents what may be the beginning of a genuine online community. That community, in turn, may someday lure job recruiters who want to hire from a pool of young and transient professional workers ‘— and leach away classified advertising revenue once taken for granted by traditional daily newspapers.
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.