Did Craiglist just leave the door open a crack?

Ben Brooks has a great post that gets straight to the point about a business that, suddenly, is wide-open with possibilities again: Local classified ads.

I can’t be the only one that thinks Craigslist is ripe for a disruption, because there is so much wrong with it that goes beyond the hideous and user hostile design of the site…

I would remind you that no matter the size of your network, if your service becomes too douchey the users will flee for greener pastures. Primes examples: MySpace and Digg — both relics of a different time (though Digg is trying a comeback)…

By far, the most interesting of his five suggestions of what to do toward that end is the last one:

5. Charge per listing, like $2 to post an ad. This does two things: removes ads; and helps cut down on SPAM listings.

I think he’s right. The very thing that rocketed Craigslist to popularity and destroyed, utterly, an entire category of income for local newspapers — the ads are free! — is now the piece that’s getting in the way of a quality user experience. Because no matter how much you spruce up the interface (#1 on Ben’s list), when it comes to ads, content actually IS king. Charging something nominal for an ad* doesn’t just create a revenue stream, it ensures that the ad itself is real and has value.

But how to stand up such an effort quickly? How could, say, the daily newspapers in our major cities take this advice and run with it (even if Ben wasn’t necessarily thinking of newspapers when he wrote his post)?

Given that so many metro dailies have thrown in with Press+ for their paywall initiatives, perhaps this could be a good line extension (and one that, unlike the paywall, is user-friendly) for the service which has already crossed two important hurdles: It’s in widespread use but managed centrally and it is capable of completing transactions.

Your ball, newspaper people…

* This is not to say that the newspaper industry biz wouldn’t screw this up by getting greedy and charging by the word, with upcharges for “premiums” like photos, maps and video or some other such genius move. Great ideas sometimes do turn out to be Ishtar in execution.

Tim Windsor

VP, Content & Conversion at LendingPoint LLC
I lead media companies and other organizations that want to develop and improve their mobile and digital strategies and technologies, grow audience, and build sustainable digital revenue.