Why are newspapers still around? Who buys newspapers these days? It certainly isn't teenagers looking for a used car. As a family we certainly don't buy newspapers, though we'll occasionally check one out if we find one sitting (discarded and lonely and only slightly stained) in a coffee shop.

I put an ad into a Chicago Daily Herald today to sell my '97 Ford Probe. She claimed they move around 200,000 editions a day, but you have to wonder how many papers actually get sold and how many are tossed out by vendors. Let's be generous and say they sell 80% of their newspapers per day. Let's further say that 0.5% of these people are looking for a used car. Let's also say that 5% of these people would even consider purchasing my particular vehicle given its price range, condition, domestic/foreign buying habits, style of car, etc:

200000 * 0.8 * 0.005 * 0.05 = 40 people/day

That's not bad, actually. What sucked was that I was allowed only 3 lines of 25 characters to describe my vehicle. 75 characters for 2 weeks came to $51 USD. The ad text I finally settled on was this:

Ford 97 Probe GTS Gd Cnd
Red w/blk stripe, spoiler
100k, $3700, xxx-yyy-zzzz

It's barely intelligible unless you have a decoder ring. Wouldn't it be much nicer to have the data structured:

   <mileage units="miles">100000</mileage>
   <asking-price units="USD">3700.00</asking-price>
   <feature id="1">Rear spoiler</feature>
   <feature id="2">Black stripe</feature>
   <contact type="homephone">xxx-yyy-zzzz</contact>
   <contact type="cellphone">....</contact>
   <contact type="address">.....</contact>
   <contact type="email">....</contact>
   <photo id="1" src="probe1.jpg" />
   <photo id="2" src="probe2.jpg" />
   <photo id="3" src="probe3.jpg" />

And then be able to search for cars on a particular field or range?

Wouldn't it be even cooler if you could do this online, for free without having to purchase dirty newsprint and wade through all those sections and advertisements and flyers to see what you want.

Gee, I wonder why no one has ever thought about putting used car ads online...

Ok, all sarcasm aside, compare the Daily Herald ad fiasco above to Yahoo! Autos. Here is a good sample ad. The information about the vehicle is well laid out and detailed. A single click allows you to compare the Kelley Blue Book value, you can get the VIN, there are six photos of the vehicle, a single click gets you a map of the seller's location, there is a long paragraph describing the vehicle with a full table of options that the vehicle has.

Now look at Yahoo! Auto's advanced search utility. You can search on make, model, year, mileage, price, location. You can limit your search to those ads with photos. You can limit your search to private sellers or dealers. You can search on keywords of the description. All within clicks and no manually poring over newsprint to find that perfect deal.

I'm sure there's even a SOAP web service in there somewhere where you could really get busy with the data...

The sad thing is that there are so many better places to try and sell my car that users have access to for FREE: Magazines/newspapers that specialize in used cars, popular used car websites like Yahoo! Auto and eBay Motors, car enthusiast forums, etc. Yet my gut reaction was to "put an ad in the paper". Ugh.

Who actually goes to Yahoo! to look for a used car? Based on the above I think I might start. If I get antsy enough I might purchase an ad and see what kind of hits I get.

So one final question remains: Why did I place the ad where I did? Answer in Retrospect: I have no frippin' idea.

§85 · April 22, 2005 · Life, Technology, Web, XML · · [Print]

3 Comments to “The Demise of Newspapers”

  1. Mauriat says:

    Truth be told, Newspapers ads DO work … There’s always craigslist.

  2. Carson says:

    The great thing about selling your car online is that in most classified ads websites, you can display much more information about your car than in printed newspapers. They generally cost less and allow multiple pictures. You can also find car classified sites whose ads are search engine friendly enough that they show up at or near the top of the search relults pages of the major searh engines. This will get your car ad seen by many more people than print.

  3. John Gall says:

    My wife sold her Probe via the newspaper and it sold the same Sunday it was first run. I’ve actually had good luck with newspaper. Even though I hate paying the high price of the classified I find that the quality of the buyer is better in the Sunday classifieds than Craigslist.