Free Classifieds? Not so Crazy

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By: Greg Mitchell

After a 90-day trial, The San Diego Union-Tribune in mid-December declared a success its “unprecedented move” to offer free classified advertisements for individuals selling items for $5,000 or less. The paper said that compared to average weekly figures in 2004, call volume is up 27%, private-party ad volume has increased 160%, and ads placed via the Internet are up a whopping 435%.

The U-T “has put its stake in the ground with the launch of free classifieds,” Scott Whitley, director of advertising, said in a statement. “In order to obtain dramatic results, we realized we needed to do something out of character for newspapers, and the results prove the attention-getting effort has been a success.” The free, three-line classified advertisements are available for seven days in the newspaper and online via SignOnSanDiego.com, and are accepted in the following categories: merchandise, automotive, boats, jobs wanted, found pets, and found items.

“To the best of our knowledge, no other major daily newspaper in the country offers free classifieds for such a wide range of items, or for items sold at such a high value,” said Whitley. “In addition to increasing call volume and ad count, we’re offering free classifieds to grow readership down the road. The fact that the number of ads placed via the Internet has skyrocketed proves that we are attracting an audience more comfortable doing business online — most likely a younger audience.”

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