Can this model be saved?
My friend Steve Outing is part of a new initiative called Reinventing Classifieds, which aims to “revive newspaper classifieds by finding a new business model that’s relevant in the Internet age.” Sounds like a noble cause, and it has some new technology behind it, and we can always use some new thinking, so it’s worth checking out.
Steve’s kickoff blog post is titled “Can newspaper classifieds really be saved?” — which sure sounds like a dare to me, so here goes.
“Classifieds” is one of those funny words that we all understand to mean a whole lot of things. It’s like a big tangle of string, and you can’t tell where it starts or ends, or how many pieces are really in there.
Is it somebody selling their couch, like in the local Penny Saver? or on Craigslist? Is it a car dealer who buys a full-page newspaper ad because his competitor did, and he can’t risk being second fiddle? Is it a real-estate agent buying a newspaper ad because the seller demands it? Is it a hospital offering a bounty to employees who recruit a new nurse? Is it cars.com? Is it eBay?
I don’t know, but all those behaviors and products and technologies are wound up in that tangle of string, and only a few of us call that tangle “classifieds.”
Allow me to reach in and tug at a thread. Hospitals are having a horrible time hiring enough doctors and nurses. What are some possible solutions, and how many of those solutions can the newspaper help with? Can the newspaper really make much of a difference by making their “classifieds” the best they can possibly be, in print, online, on mobile? Probably not: those solutions will only reach the nurses and doctors who are in the market for a new job, and that’s not the problem. OK, so what is the newspaper able and willing to help with? This is where creative folks need to get involved, climb outside the box that says “classifieds,” talk to the hospital about what works and what doesn’t, and invent some solutions. I expect the ideas would push a lot of boundaries, and some would pose ethical issues. Sadly, many wouldn’t fly because of newspaper cultural issues, not ethics.
All of which is a long way around to Steve’s question “Can newspaper classifieds really be saved?” My fear is that by defining the challenge as “saving classifieds” rather than “figuring out how to help employers/realtors/auto dealers solve problems” we could be missing opportunities to redefine newspapers’ role of bringing people together to do business.
Which is what we used to call “classifieds.”
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