Friday, April 6, 2018

The Newspaper Industry Should be Ashamed of its Classifieds Debachle.

Without regard to recent disruption, the underlying product that I used may quite possibly be one of the worst digital products I've come in contact with recently...

I had agreed to promote an 'estate sale' for a close family friend as the go-to 'guy with the internet' and it went pretty well save a bit too much chit-chat with some charmingly peculiar  'pickers' and the homeowner losing his cool when he found a scavenger in the bathroom of his elegant home rifling through his wife's medications. The latter resulted in the home-owner's voice booming through the house "Everyone get out, I have a firearm!" which, as he is an attorney, I assumed was carefully chosen legalese as more of a declaration than threat but gosh did it prove to be very effective for the otherwise socially awkward crowd.

The Story
I decided to run a 'classified' for a 'garage sale' in the well-respected newspaper in the capital of a famous and wealthy state.

Too much time...
The process began smoothly enough but page-refreshes for every minor event felt a bit strained and eventually I hit a wall pretty hard right at the finish line.

Luckily I was sharing my office space with a cadre of developers and digital entrepreneurs which seems to have zero'd the productivity. Although the process took over an hour, I admit some efficiency was lost due to the spectators' constant comical commentary, but this time was recovered by the developers' ability to help me 'turn off' some extensions and re-enable some other 'content settings' which seemed to be the trick needed to be able to give them my money.

At one point we all turned simultaneously and silently to the new guy after stating 'it may be one of those sites where you have to use Internet Explorer.' He recovered some dignity by noting that I was using AdBlock, a sign of his intelligence as it could obviously hinder the tech in basic ad operations products...

All in the process took 1 hour from decision to 'receipt' (more on that in a minute).

Too much money...
Once we could technically pay the newspaper, the 'add-ons' (additional letters that created additional words?) and extra maneuvers added up to $93.00. This was about 4x what I expected but I had invested an hour which is key to these types of sales as you begin to feel an arctic adventurer in the funnel...  'well team, we've gone this far, we might as well reach the pole'.

The odd thing was that I couldn't see a link to the ad published online with the actual receipt.

Way too sexy (My own delusion)
I later got a call from a random number and atypically answered only to find out it was from a human member of the classifieds team. The team member's voice was forwarded to my hangouts and was beautiful, with the connection being crystal clear. "What is happening?" I wondered. Did she google me? Have I not changed my social profiles to 'married' or did she not see the kids' photos on Instragram? I have gotten so old and boring, trading adventure for family and settling down... Is it wrong to feel so good for being flattered? Is this how the heart strays? I am not a typically handsome man but a French woman once called me 'ugly pretty' and said some women really like that... Is this voice on the phone a living fan of 'ugly pretty' men? I am going to have to nip this in the bud. I am a loyal man. I will never stray.


Apparently the call was to ask if was really a garage sale or if it was technically an 'estate' sale. There also appears to be an extra charge if the items are owned by more than one person. The old 'multi family' it's called in that business. I felt like I was getting shaken down for an extra $40 and asked her why I couldn't see my ad online. She told me 'the system' wouldn't publish it until the morning.  It was a little strange that I had to pay for 4 days even though I only needed 2 and it left a bad taste in my mouth to  also discover that in a town of almost 400,000 people, the digital classified was limited to a max of 10,000 impressions which as a CPM seems steep. I didn't buy a paper to check, but I was told that though the digital classified was live, it missed a day in the printed paper.

Way to easy to replicate
Once I learned that the digital ad wouldn't be visible until the next morning, I decided to put 90 seconds into a Craigslist post adding actual photos instead of a convoluted shared gallery's tinyurl that was used to save space on the classified. As craigslist also facilitates communication, the homeowner sold almost everything that he decided was worthy of being photographed before the ad in the paper even ran including a hand-made Adirondack Guide Canoe that won 3rd prize in Wooden Boat Magazine 2004 and a ton of hand-crafted furniture, art, and antique fly fishing equipment.

The results (for everyone involved)
I was one of only two 'estate' sales in the paper that week. As a genius I have determined the paper has generated at least $186 with these two ads, although they use a vendor platform to manage the process so this revenue may be split.  At 70/30 that leaves $130, which some went to wages and benefits for my gorgeous stalker who ended up getting skunked on the $40 up-sell. I am not sure this made them any money at all actually, and it definitely would have cost them money if I called even once to complain or for a make-good.

The consumers who may focus exclusively on the paper for these types of notifications definitely missed out on everything good, and in fact almost everything worthy of a photograph was already sold by the time the classified went live. I never even tried Facebook's marketplace for him.

For the home-owner, I will say he did get some attention from professional scavengers offering flat-fees to 'clean-up' the mess and keep everything after the sale as they just assume that only a rich guy is buying these ads so even his garbage is probably worth something.

A proposed solution
Let me say first that I truly LOVE my local paper, its owner, its writers, and the community. The content is spectacular and I am proud of them, but I am currently not missing anything by not subscribing and with so many competing subscriptions in the modern world, I will probably not become one any time soon.

For my situation exclusively, I honestly think it would have made a ton more sense to sell me the 'all access digital' subscription (for essentially the same price) set on an auto-renew and throw in the classified (or a dozen for that matter) and get as close to me as possible as a rabid consumer of content, a member of the community, and a true supporter of their respectable mission.

Instead they got twenty bucks and my being polite by not naming them in a comical note.

- James Pavoldi

I seldom criticize harshly and publicly as matter of self-preservation lest I ever find myself working with or for a previously named buffoon, but I can honestly say that if I ever enter this space it will be as a dream (and investment) destroyer for the incumbents.

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