Craigslist comes to town

This week, Craigslist, the popular free online classified site that boasts 10 million users visits a month, added 300 more city listings, including Charlottesville.

"From a business perspective," writes local real estate blogger Jim Duncan, "ignoring this entrance could prove fatal." As Duncan and others have pointed out, Craigslist is single-handedly transforming the classified advertising business. While newspapers continue to charge for advertising, Craigslist allows users to post ads for free. In addition, its numerous loyal users virtually guarantee a wide audience for whatever you’re hawking, whether it be a used car, piano lessons, gold doubloons, or a house.

Even if you haven’t ignored Craigslist’s arrival, it could still prove fatal. The Hook offers free online classifieds for certain items, and not long ago the Cville Weekly launched a free online classifieds site in an attempt to get ahead of the curve, but can such local efforts really compete?

“I have no idea,” says blogger Waldo Jaquith. “I’m always rooting for the underdog, so I certainly hope so. Of course, despite it’s success, Craigslist is a classic underdog.”

Indeed, as Jaquith notes, the text and hyper-link heavy site has stubbornly refuses to fully cash in on its success, preferring instead to cater to the demands of its users. For example, the site still doesn’t run banner ads. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Craigslist generates about $25 million a year, but could generate an estimated $500 million if it ran a few web ads. Asked why they don’t run ads, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said, “It’s not something our users have asked for.”

Obviously, it’s that kind of loyalty to its users that has made its users so loyal to Craigslist.

“Unfortunately, I think Craigslist is so hip that it can’t be beat by a local effort,” says Jaquith. “The Daily Progress might not feel the effect as soon, given its demographics, but the Cville Weekly and The Hook certainly will. Their demographics are the kind of people who read Craigslist.”