Are free classifieds the answer for newspapers?

You have already read Andrew Chavez’s great piece here on this site about the impact of Craigslist on newspaper classifieds. Now check out these three articles from NAA that tell the stories of three newspapers that have gone to free classifieds:

NAA’s Digital Edge blog also tells the story of a smaller newspaper, The Daily Journal of Kankakee, Ill., which went to a free classifieds concept (no URL here because you need a Digital Edge subscription to access this one, so read on to find out what happened).

For the Kankakee paper, the impetus was the establishment of a free shopper four years ago.  The shopper sold its display ads but gave away its classifieds.  The paper hired a temporary employee who called everyone who had taken out a free ad in the shopper, telling them that the Journal also had free ads and had a much greater circulation.

The shopper even offered free auto ads – the newspaper countered with a $19.95 “Run It ‘Till It Sells” promotion. It partnered with a local car wash to offer $5 car wash coupons for readers who submitted a photo along with their six lines of ad copy.

The paper even purchased digital cameras and offered to take a photo of a reader’s car if the owner brought the vehicle to the newspaper office. The bottom line: The Daily Journal‘s classified section has grown to more than four times its original size.

Says the paper’s classifieds manager:  “It’s been phenomenal. We actually didn’t see a downturn in revenue after we started this.” Even the pet section has grown, with dog breeders across the state wanting to advertise.

The result? The free shopper has disappeared, and The Daily Journal has maintained its free classifieds policy for merchandise under $400. Since the shopper died, the paper changed its policy to offer the free classified only to newspaper subscribers.  Each month, the paper signs up 25 to 30 new subscribers because of the free classifieds offer.

By Kathryn Jones Malone

Kathryn Jones Malone is co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism. She began her career as a staff writer at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, then worked as a staff writer for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News; as a contract writer for The New York Times; as a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly magazine; as editor of the Glen Rose Reporter; and as a freelance writer for numerous state, regional and national magazines. She teaches journalism at Tarleton State University.