Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newspapers Missing Out On The Classy Action

The beginning of this week gave me a powerful reminder of why so many newspapers are finding themselves in difficult financial straits.

Over the weekend I decided to sell one of the laptop computers that I own. Before the Internet (and the News-Press meltdown) I would likely have placed an ad in the classified section of the newspaper, waited a day or two after I paid for the ad to see it appear in the paper and then waited for what might have turned out to be a considerable length of time for the phone to ring. If I didn't unload the computer within the shelf life of the classified ad, I might well have to pony up a few more bucks to run another classified.

But that was then, this is now. On Monday morning around 8:30 am, I decided to venture down that dark back alley of the Internet. I posted an ad on craigslist advertising my "lightly used MacBook Air," (only used for surfing the Web and blogging right?) and then headed out to coffee. Before I finished my second cup, I had my first call about the laptop.

The photo of my computer that ran on my craigslist ad.

By the time I got back home I had call number two and a text message inquiring about the computer. It looked like unloading the laptop was going to be easy and nearly painless to boot.

Well, it wasn't quite that easy. The first caller failed to appear for our 2 pm rendezvous back at the Daily Grind to look at the computer. And no, he wasn't picking up his cell phone when I called to find out what happened to him.

I was a little miffed at having made a wasted trip, but on the bright side, I still had two good prospects. Or so I thought.

Throughout the afternoon, the text messager and I exchanged about a dozen texts which mostly involved him trying to bargain me down on my price even though he had never seen the computer. That finally ended when I made it clear that if he wasn't a charity, I wasn't about to give the computer to him for nothing or next to nothing.

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Phone caller number two seemed interested and sincere but was too busy to meet up to see the computer on Monday. So five o'clock rolled around and despite a promising start to the selling day I ended up a bit disappointed.

However, Monday evening brought two calls, one from a buyer in Nipomo and another from a buyer in Ventura. Both seemed eager to purchase the computer. The buyer from up north couldn't get down here until early Tuesday afternoon. The Ventura buyer, who turned out to be a high school aged kid along with his father, agreed to meet me at the Starbucks at State and Victoria at 10:30 in the morning.

When I arrived at Starbucks the next morning a few minutes early, they were already there waiting for me. After some mild haggling they agreed to buy it. I only had to knock 20 off of my asking price.

So, in the end, I sold my laptop a mere 26 hours after posting the ad on craigslist for it. Posting the ad didn't cost me anything as it would have in the days before the Internet. And the buyers didn't have to buy a newspaper in order to scan the classifieds. And in the end, it looks like the two most serious buyers came from outside the area that would have been reached had I placed my classified with a local newspaper.

So, I sold my laptop quickly and with no transaction costs. Of course what is good news for me is bad news for newspapers who now have less money to pay sales people and reporters.

Fewer ads means less need for a sales force and less revenue to pay reporters to produce content that makes you want to buy the newspaper, and so on and so on and so on. You get the idea.

Because of craigslist, it's hard out there for those in print.

© 2010 by Craig Smith and