One reason newspapers are failing is that they just don’t have their act together with respect to classified advertisements.

Nowadays, with cell phones and VOIP phones, it is impossible to look at a phone number in an ad and have any idea  where, and, more importantly, how far away, the advertiser might be.  It matters, and it matters a lot.

The real estate section divides ads for apartments, houses, and such into geographical subsections within a metropolitan area.  Why?  Because people are looking at certain areas for new housing.  But people also want to know what part of town a used item is in, also.  Why?  Because a lot of used items advertised in newspapers’ classifieds are so far away as to be a waste of time to go out to see  them.  Often, it is less trouble and time (and time is money) to just buy something new nearby, than to get on the phone and start asking people where the item is, and then to schlep miles to see something that has a high probability of turning out to be unsuitable.

Also, there can be lot’s of good used items closer by.    But how to ferret them out?

Now, look at the competition, Craigslist.  Craigslist asks sellers to provide the local geographic subsection, such as the local town within the large metro area.  Considering that large metropolitan areas are generally comprised of many towns, this makes perfect sense.  Now I can first check my own town, or nearby ones, before expanding a search to the suburbs or adjacent metropolises.

One example of needing to look at things nearby is used cars.  It is important to go and look at a used car, drive it, look for oil leaks under it, and arrange for a good mechanic to give it a buyer’s check.  Getting these things done is just a pain when the car is far away.  I’ve gone many a time to look at an advertised used car that turned out to be far less than I expected … covered in mud, not running, making bumps and clanks when driven, and so forth … enough to know it would be a waste of time to pursue buying the car.  Why drive 25 or 30  miles for this experience, when it is just as possible to have it closer to home?

Why don’t newspapers divide up their classified sections into geographical areas?  Search me!  Is this one reason people don’t use them anymore?  Absolutely.  (But Craig Newmark is not going to tell them this, now is he?)