A reader writes:
I work at a small daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest selling classified advertising. In my job, I, more than most, have a pretty close finger on the pulse of the local economy. I see what people are advertising and trying to sell, and see what's moving and what's not. Last summer when diesel was pushing $5 a gallon, we had a record volume of diesel pickup truck ads, all at terrific markdowns, and a garage sale page that was huge week after week, all filled with pitches like, "Everything must go, super low prices!" Now the picture is even grimmer.
We are publishing about six foreclosure notices in the legals section for every employment ad. When we run a blind employment ad (applicants send their responses to us and we forward them on to the anonymity seeking advertiser) we can get over a hundred responses to a one day run for an entry level position. The number of rental homes on the market has been steadily rising and its been taking longer and longer for them to rent. The volume of scam artists trying (we're pretty aggressive about screening them) to place ads for $200 English Bulldog pups shipped from overseas (yeah right) has skyrocketed. In short, everywhere we turn, there's a lot of hurt.
As for the overall decline of our business, we haven't been immune. At the height of the bubble, real estate people couldn't throw money at us fast enough. Now we are squeezing by on drastically lower commissions and reduced working days. While the competition has taken a fair portion of our business (mostly at the low end, private party ads with items priced under $200), we still have a dedicated community of readers who value having a classified section that is clean, readable (we have a minimal abbreviation list), and carefully vets is advertisers for legitimacy. As for the big picture, classified ads have an incredibly bright future. Just look at the the column on the right hand side of any Google search: carefully categorized, short text ads. The existing delivery mechanism for classified ads in one big section at the back of the paper every day is however doomed, and finding new ways to integrate those ads into the overall news product (in print and on the web) will be challenging.
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