Craigslist: The $5 billion juggernaut that crippled an industry.

Craigslist logoIt’s common knowledge that the business model for newspapers started going awry in a major way with the decline in newspaper classified advertising.

Craigslist played a huge role in that development, as the online classifieds site went about methodically entering one urban market after another across the United States.

And now we have quantification of just how impactful Craigslist’s role was.  It comes in the form of a May 2013 study authored by Robert Seamans of New York University’s Stern School of Business and Feng Zhu of the University of Southern California.

Titled Responses to Entry in Multi-Sided Markets:  The Impact of Craigslist on Local Newspapers, the study explored the dynamics at play over the period 2000-2007, focusing on newspapers’ degree of reliance on classifieds at the time of Craigslist’s entry into their markets.

What the researchers found was that those newspapers that relied heavily on classified ads for revenue experienced more than a 20% decline in classified advertising rates following Craigslist’s entry into their markets.

But that isn’t all:  The outmigration of classified advertising to Craigslist was accompanied by other negative trend lines — an increase of subscription prices (up 3%+) and lowering circulation figures (down nearly 5%).

Even newspaper display advertising rates fell by approximately 3%.

Were these developments “cause” or “effect”?  The study’s authors posit that fewer classified ads may have diminished the incentive for people to purchase the newspapers.  Also, display advertising rates tend to track circulation figures, so once the “decline cycle” started, it was bound to continue.

The study concludes that by offering buyers and sellers a free classified ad alternative to paid listings in newspapers, Craigslist saved users approximately $5 billion over the seven-year period.

Those dollars came right out of the hides of the newspapers, of course … and changed the print newspaper industry for good.

But here’s the thing:  The experience of the newspaper industry has relevance beyond just them.  “The boundaries between media industries are blurred and advertisers are able to reach consumers through a variety of platforms such as TV, the Internet and mobile devices,” the authors write.

The unmistakable message to others in the media is this:  It could happen to you, too.

A full summary of the Seamans/Zhu report can be found here.

A Newspaper Startup in 2012 … Is this Madness?

European Daily, preview editionOver the past decade or more, seemingly all the business trends on the newspaper front have been negative. So to read that a new transnational newspaper is being planned for a Fall 2012 launch comes as a pretty big surprise.

Yes, you heard that right:  The European Daily plans to hit the streets in a few months’ time. In the meantime, the budding newspaper already has a website up and running.

The European Daily is the brainchild of three young entrepreneurs from Sweden and Germany. “We are a publication that partly targets a more senior audience who, to a great extent, still prefers print, as well as a traveling audience who wants to read their news on a flight or at their hotel,” says Johan Malmsten, one of the three founders.

Does this sort of thinking sound like a recipe for success in 2012?

At first blush, it seems like a pipe dream. Two huge roadblocks appear to be standing in the way of success. First, the market dynamics have been ugly for traditional newspapers … their traditional business model swept away by the Internet and changing ways that consumers access the news.

Add to this the mounting political and economic crisis in Europe, which could result in the European Union’s breakup, rather than any sort of renewed consolidation.  Is this the right time to be introducing a media property that’s “pan-European” in its character?

Mr. Malmsten discounts these threats. Instead he asserts, “Some people have praised us on our perfect timing, given the vivid current debate about Europe and the fact that a European news source and a common public sphere have never been as much in demand.”

“Europe is a daily reality for millions of Europeans, and that won’t change. We see giving these people a news source and a daily point of reference as our mission,” he adds.

Looking at the newspaper’s launch plans, it’s pretty clear the investors are fully committed to their mission. A staff of 30 is being constructed for the paper — about half of them focused on content.  The editorial team will be based in Amsterdam in Holland.

A “preview” edition of the European Daily was printed last year and ~40,000 copies were distributed in key urban centers like Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels. Reportedly, the reception was highly positive.

But I have doubts whether a completely new newspaper title can be launched successfully – especially one that’s based on a conventional print-centric product with a digital adjunct. It seems like we’ve seen this movie before:  This very formula has been tried and found wanting – even among established newspaper brands.

It will be interesting to look back in about two or three years and see if this endeavor adds up to much – or instead has gone by the wayside.

Anyone care to weigh in with odds on the front end?

Newspapers crash … Online news soars.

The latest annual News Users report by Outsell, Inc. predicts additional declines in print newspaper circulation as consumers continue to gravitate to online news. It is the third annual report issued by this marketing and communications research firm, which is developed from findings gathered in consumer surveys.

Outsell projects that Sunday newspaper readers will drop to ~43 million by 2012. That would represent a decline of some 20 million readers from Sunday papers’ circulation heights in the 1990s.

But what’s even more noteworthy is the continuing evolution in online activities. Today, nearly 60% of consumers report that they go online for “news right now.” That’s up from 33% just a few years ago.

And where are people going for their online news? By a large margin, it’s to aggregator sites like Google News, Yahoo and Drudge Report rather than to newspaper sites. As an example, 44% of the people who go to Google News scan the headlines there, without clicking through or accessing the newspapers’ individual sites.

Other key findings from the Outsell survey:

One in five consumers now go to online news aggregators for their “first in the day” news, up from 10% three years ago. TV/cable still leads with 30%, but that margin has been shrinking dramatically.

Paid online content is not a picking up the slack for newspapers, with participation rates of no more than 10% of consumers.

Newspapers retain strengths in reporting local topics (e.g., local news, sports and entertainment), even as national topics have gone pretty much all-digital.

That being stated, if a valued local online news site were to put up a pay wall – or require a paid subscription to the print paper in order to gain free online access – three out of four respondents claimed they would go somewhere else to find the news free of charge. (That’s despite the fact that good alternative news sources at the local level are usually not so numerous.)

The Outsell study found that consumers continue to believe printed news is worth paying for … but they expect the news they get online to be free of charge.

The big problem: It looks like it’s too late for publishers to “transition” reader willingness to pay for print news over to now paying for that same content online.

Nope, that train’s already left the station.