It might be tempting to say that the rise of the Internet is solely responsible for the decline of classified advertising in the newspaper industry. But as a former CAM (that's classified advertising manager, for those of you on the outside), I've always looked at the decline a little differently - if newspaper executives weren't so against the new digital platforms themselves they might have hung on to the business. Instead, the loss of ads also ended up meaning that newspapers became more and more irrelevant to their clients, resulting not only in the loss of ad revenue, but in the loss of customers in general. CAM always claimed that many readers picked up the paper for the classified ads, and circulation numbers don't dispute this claim.
Now, customers – both readers and advertisers – are being conditioned to go elsewhere when they want their classified ads. But we could go on and on with this subject, and I'm not sure what good it would do – too many newspaper executives believe they are in the "newspaper" business rather than the news delivery business, and as a result just can't get their heads around any new platform that arises. But here is an easy picture to understand: classified revenue since 1960, care of the Newspaper Association of America:
One can see two dips, one after 1990, and another after 2000. Interestingly, despite the growth of the Internet, newspapers were able to ride a rising economy to new growth twice following recessions. But the after a decade of surrendering auto, real estate and help-wanted advertising to new electronic competitors, the industry is at a disadvantage this time around.
And that is truly too bad: because the rise of both mobile and tablet publishing platforms should be a new opportunity to become competitive again.
In May of 2009 Steve Outing asked the simple question: How’s your classifieds mobile app coming along? It was a bit of a rhetorical question because the message was that the rise of smartphones meant an opportunity to create for the classified market. Sadly, newspapers have once again let an opportunity pass them by (though, I would suppose the opportunity hasn't completely disappeared yet).
Looking at new mobile and tablet apps, such as this one from Copart, should make smart classified ad people drool knowing they could do better. But can they? Are they involved enough in the discussions going on at newspaper companies to be able to convince executives that there is a huge opportunity?
This free app, Copart Sell My Car, violates just about all the rules for the new digital platforms. It opens with a page that says "Call Us Now!". Gee, thanks, I really needed an app to tell me that.
If you bypass this first effort to get you outside the app, you can fill out a form about the car you want to sell. It immediately asks for lots of information that eventually leads you to sending them an email.
Yep, this app is basically a way of writing an email.
If you are a CAM you should definitely download this app. Then ask yourself this: "we're losing to these guys?"