Why users fled paper classifieds

Ars is running a story about a dramatic shift in people using online classifieds over paper. This isn’t hard to imagine. In fact, my past two jobs, my current apartment, and my bedroom set were all found via craigslist. Of course as the research suggest I fit into the ideal category on all counts (24-44, urban, college student or husband to one, moved to new city, and looking for a job), but that is not to say that I didn’t try other mediums.

When I graduated from grad school in 2006 I moved close to my home town in IL. As such I was familiar with the local media and generally what jobs were available. So when I moved to the area I started searching via print news papers. I found a handful, but my field was technology and there weren’t enough results to meet my desires. So I went searching through the web. I think I typed something like, “Apple Jobs Champaign Urbana.” That turned up a perfect job opportunity via craigslist. Now I was fortunate and applied for the job and got the job offer all in the course of a week. To say that is a fluke is fair enough, also the job was advertised via traditional print media and I could have found it via the University of Illinois website.

Moving on to two years later my wife and I decide to move to Boston so she could do grad school there. Since I had a lot of lead time I started looking for ways to find jobs before moving. One of the main papers here in Boston is the Boston Globe. Unfortunately, you cannot find the paper in print in IL, so that left me without any print. Which is an inherent weakness of print classifieds. They work great if you are local, but if you aren’t they are pretty well worthless. You would think a great newspaper like the Globe would then put their classifieds online right? No their online classifieds pointed directly to yahoo jobs and that was a remix of Monster.com. I am pretty internet savvy and was already registered through Monster so the Globe didn’t offer anything I didn’t already have. Monster did a good job and gave me over 6 interviews, but in the end the job I got was found via craigslist. Searching for apartments was another chore. We used apartments.com among other sites. They were helpful, but really only found commercial properties. Finally we started looking at craigslist and found a bunch of potential properties and settled on our current place. We are supremely happy. Finally when we moved we needed a bedroom set. First search revealed someone who needed to downsize and quick. We took a look and realized we were getting a very good deal and thus ends the story.

So what is the point? My point is that in all of those cases I tried the print version, but it was of little (in IL) to no (in Boston) use to me. In IL I found plenty of potential jobs, but without a search or backdate functionality (something other than the library) I would have missed out on good opportunities like the job I actually got. In Boston I needed to be local in order to see them in the first place. The papers had their chance. They once were THE place to go for all things classifieds, but their insistence to keep it locked up and to charge money for the adds left a hole. That hole has been filled by craigslist and co. What surprises me is that print papers haven’t realized their mistake and try to fix it. Such as the Globe just rebranding Monster…I assume (though I haven’t ever purchase the Globe) that their actual classifieds are different. Whatever there reasoning they missed their opportunity and I am afraid it is far too late for print classifieds to make a comeback.

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One Comment on “Why users fled paper classifieds”

  1. bfpower Says:

    Employers are also increasingly moving toward using online ads, sometimes to the exclusion of print. While print media is still useful (and some companies use it exclusively, especially in rural areas like mine), I always go to the Web first. Everything from getting directions to finding out of area jobs to the best housing to finding religious services to attend while on vacation – everything gets done first online.

    One of my clients is a real estate broker who left his former firm to start his own – largely because the former firm would not espouse best practices of Web marketing. He left and works with Prudential, who is a terrific example of Web-savvy marketing. And now after a year on his own, his firm (which just expanded from 2 to 3 brokers, and is now hiring a receptionist) is selling literally 50% of the market share in the area.


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