The mensch that roared

Is Craigslist insignificant? I’ve weighed in to a small debate:

Publishers underestimated Craigslist once with devastating results. Newspapers, which derive nearly 80 of their revenue from classified advertising, lost half or more of their lucrative classified business over the past five years, a loss that now threatens the economic stability of the industry. So while, as my friend and former publisher John Greenman suggests, Craigslist may not be remarkable for the amount of money it takes from a single newspaper market, it is hardly inconsequential. Were it not for its mostly free approach Craigslist could do much greater damage.

Now the question is whether publishers will make another, perhaps fatal, mistake by missing the point of the Craigslist experience: shifting trust in the digital marketplace. Craig Newmark is a mensch, the trusted face of online classifieds, an always-on customer-service celebrity with the world’s biggest buddy list. “Trust is the new trust,” is how the enigmatic Newmark once explained it to me. What he means is that in an environment where anyone can do what he does, the authentic expression of trust is the key differentiator. That may not be entirely true, but it is enough true to crush a greedy, feudal business predicated on controlled distribution and an arcane classification system for categorizing commerce among and between people. It is the emergence of everyone as an online broker in an open, connected marketplace that warrants coverage, breathless as that may be.

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