Thursday, May 28, 2009

Online Classifieds: The Real Newspaper Killer...

A ton of media exposure has been given lately to the decline of the American newspaper industry. Virtually all of the coverage has focused on how free internet content is destroying the newspapers' advertising-based business model. There's definite truth to this, however the newspapers have plenty of other problems besides just advertising.

A new Pew Research study suggests that an equally monumental challenge is being brought by the decline in classified ads - which is traditionally newspapers' real bread-and-butter.

The number of online adults who have used online classified ad websites, like Craigslist, has more than doubled in the past four years. Almost half (49%) of internet users say they have used online classified sites, compared with 22% of online adults who had done so in 2005.

Furthermore, on any given day about a tenth of internet users (9%) visit online classified sites, up from 4% in 2005. This rise in online use coincides with a steep revenue decline for newspapers.

This data seems to mesh with reality, and the report is right to point out both the growing social role of online classified ads as well as the change in attitudes towards them - both from the perspectives of those who place the ads and those who make purchases. For anecdotal evidence, if any of you have done a job search or apartment search in the past few years, did you spend more time browsing on Craiglist or reading print newspapers?

My intent is not to make any value judgment, but only to highlight that when you read journalistic accounts about the newspaper industry's demise, remember that there's more to the story than often gets reported. Beware oversimplifications and narratives that turn the internet into a boogeyman.


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