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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Resolving the Craigslist challenge and dilemma
Craigslist is revolutionizing the methods people use 'classified ads' to purchase, sell and rent things. It is destroying the bedrock of revenue and relevancy for daily newspapers and local "buy and sell" publications, and is defying the principals of economic 'magnetization' (in simple words, it is giving away its services at a price far below the market is willing to pay).

In fact Craigslist is entirely free, except in a few major cities like New York and San Francisco, where there is a modest fee for job postings and certain property rentals. And these fees were driven not by Craigslist, but by legitimate advertisers and users, who could not see the real offers through the spammy-scammy junk posted on the sites there.

But even in markets (the great majority) where Craigslist is free, it has a unique set of rules. You cannot post more than one offer at a time, and your listings under the given category are upstaged by newer listings as they are posted. These rules, and some others, of course are designed to prevent spam from overtaking the sites -- and because of this, the sites have attracted a loyal following and work for advertisers better than many expensive fee-supported services.

This generally means that you will, if you are going to get a response at all, receive a flurry of inquiries when your listing first appears; then things will stop. Of course this flurry is usually enough to sell anything where there is some high demand or interest. Craigslist also allows you to post photos of the things you are selling.

Does it work? I've primarily tried the service for Help Wanted listings (we are looking for sales representatives, with a decent starting salary). When I post in Ottawa, I receive usually two or three legitimate applications right away, plus a few solicitations for third-party leads or telemarketing services (even though I click the box on the form saying that third party solicitations are not welcome.) I need of course to compete for attention with various commission-only opportunities. At least in my market, Craigslist doesn't really work for me -- the free government employment listing service is much more effective (people can easily screen out the commission-only opportunities, and do), but I probably would try it in cities where Craigslist charges the modest listing fee.

My good friend, who sold his community newspaper business a couple of years ago, is breathing a sigh of relief that he has his capital gains in hand -- after trying Craigslist to rent an apartment he owns. Within a day, and without a cent of money, he had found just the right tenant; with no problem (after renting) with all the nuisance calls from people wanting to rent the already-rented property.

Some contractors on using Craigslist say it is a great resource for them; others say they get very poor results, or only 'tire kickers' or extreme bargain hunters.

Others are frustrated by the service's limitations designed to overcome spam challenges. For example, even though you might have an opportunity in multiple cities or variations in your offer, you can only post one at a time-- your additional listings will be rejected either right away or after users discover the multiple listings and report them.

Not surprisingly some entrepreneurs seeking the loopholes to give an advantage, have come up with work-arounds, including software to allow you to design your multiple postings to escape Craigslist filters. I am not about to recommend these products or to rush to encourage another possible solution -- enlisting offshore or low cost services to manually post the entries systematically for you. But these resources may be tempting in markets where traditional free Craigslist rules apply.

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