Wednesday, January 13, 2010

After a Few Centuries, Goodbye to Classifieds as We Know ‘Em.

Rob Schoenbeck sent me a list today, “25 things About to Become Extinct in America.” Among which:

23. Classified Ads. The Internet has made so many things obsolete that newspaper classified ads might sound like just another trivial item on a long list. But this is one of those harbingers of the future that could signal the end of civilization as we know it. The argument is that if newspaper classifieds are replaced by free online listings at sites like and Google Base, then newspapers are not far behind them.

Now, your newspaper classified ads? They’ve been around since the 1600s. A weekly newspaper called The Public Advertiser consisted almost entirely of ads for a wide range of services and products – books and other trade goods (retail), quack doctors (healthcare), coffeehouses offering not just “cophee” and chocolate but an “excellent…China drink, called by the Chineans tcha, by other nations tay, alias tee.” Also: Fairs and cockfights (entertainment) and coach departures (destination marketing).

By the way, that “tee” was “by all Physicians approved.” There really isn’t anything new under the sun – except maybe government regulation.  The first issue of PA was May 1657.

The online world is simply the continuation of advertising by other means. Technology just keeps changing up those means and some take longer than others to have an impact. Radio never actually replaced the newspaper despite dire predictions. And certainly, there are plenty of forecasts that the time of print-edition newspapers is almost up perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

You may well look for motorcycles or forklifts or kitchenware on Craig’s List. Get your ads over your iPhone now that we’ve been assured that mobile apps are the hottest thing going. But even though the numbers of users are changing fast, there will be plenty of overlap – lots of time for more mature users like me to get used to new media.

The April 24, 1704, edition of Boston Newsletter ran this ad for classified advertising:

All persons who have any houses, lands, tenements, farms, ships, vessels, goods, ware or merchandise, etc., to be sold or let, or servants run away, or goods stole or lost, may have the same inserted at the reasonable rate of twelve pence to five shillings.”

Now, of course, just put any of it up on eBay and say bye-bye to that nasty printer’s ink.

NOTE: This old stuff about newspaper classifieds? It’s from the 1892 Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, William S Walsh.

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