Last week I excavated a treasure from our attic archives: the classified section of the May 10, 1992, Maine Sunday Telegram.
It’s a 30-page section. On the back is a full-page ad placed by a car dealer, and there are many sizeable display ads inside.
Thirty broadsheet pages of classifieds, and it doesn’t even include legal or public notices.
I told a couple of friends about it. We agreed we’d forgotten what the classified section of a newspaper used to be.
“I miss them,” said one of my friends. “They were fun to read.”
Indeed they were. Lucrative, too. Where did those ads go?
A reasonable guess:
- Help wanted (nine pages) to monster.com, indeed.com, etc.
- Apartments & real estate (six pages) to realtor.com, zillow.com, etc.
- Autos (nine pages) to cars.com, autotrader.com, etc.
- All of the above plus six pages of other stuff to craigslist.org, ebay.com, etc.
It’s easy to understand why print newspapers lost their classified ads to online alternatives. Their reach is worldwide, they’re interactive, they’re fast, they’re searchable, they’re cheap, or even free.
The local daily isn’t the only loser, though. We’ve lost something, too. Whereas before, we could turn to a single place each week — the Sunday classifieds — to find out about transactions happening in our neighborhood, now that information is scattered all over the internet.
The classified section isn’t news (it isn’t written by the news staff). But the section provides valuable information to the community, nevertheless.
What to do? Any clue? Me neither. Well, I do have one crazy idea.
Why can’t the paper print the digital ads? Would zillow and craigslist license their content back to the local daily?
Imagine a paper with a 10-town circulation area. It enters into a licensing agreement with zillow. Per that agreement, once a week zillow sends the paper basic information — address, price, listing agent, listing agent’s contact information and one picture — for every property for sale within the 10 towns.
On Sunday, the local daily prints a classified section that includes the zillow data, in addition to any classified ads sold.
What’s in it for zillow? Its digital listings are printed and distributed within the communities in which the properties are located.
What’s in it for the daily? A fat classified section that could be marketed to increase Sunday sales and to entice more paid advertising.
What would it cost? Paper and ink and layout/coordination labor. Worth it?