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Craigslist is a network of online communities focused on free classified advertisements — with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, goods, services, community, and discussion forums.
Craig Newmark, inspired by his experience with the early list-servs the WELL and Usenet, created the service in 1995 as an email distribution list for friends and friends-of-friends. The service was focused on the San Francisco community; most of its early postings were submitted by Newmark himself and were notices of social events of interest to software developers living and working in the Bay Area.
In 1996, Newmark, having registered “craigslist.org,” moved the list to the web. In 1999, he incorporated Craigslist as a private, for-profit company. In 2000, with a staff of nine — who worked out of Newmark’s San Francisco apartment — Craigslist expanded into nine more U.S. cities; by 2003, the service had expanded to 22 U.S. cities. The network, since 2000 lead by the web designer Jim Buckmaster — “possibly the only CEO ever described as anti-establishment, a communist, and a socialistic anarchist” — currently employs 30 staffers, and includes over 700 local sites spread across 70 countries. Craigslist has versions in English, French, German, Italian, Portugese, and Spanish.
Many newspaper publishers have blamed Craigslist, and the generally free classified advertising network it provides to users both local and around the globe, for destroying one of their most lucrative revenue streams. According to one 2004 report, Craigslist “has cost San Francisco Bay Area newspapers up to $65 million in employment advertising revenue.” A 2013 study found that Craigslist cost local U.S. newspapers $5 billion from 2000-2007. And a 2006 Economist article — titled “Who killed the newspaper?” — referred to Craigslist as “a group of free classified-advertisement websites that has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers’ income.” Craigslist users self-publish about 50 million new classified ads each month. Overall, the site gets more than 20 billion page views a month, with about 50 million of those views coming from the U.S.
Craigslist’s main source of revenue is paid job ads in select cities. The service charges $75 per ad for the San Francisco Bay Area, and $25 per ad for Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Orange County (California), Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland (Oregon), San Diego, Sacramento, Seattle, South Florida, and Washington, DC. Craigslist also charges $10 per ad for broker apartment listings in New York City, and $10 for posts in the “therapeutic services” sections of Craigslist sites.
Though the service doesn’t formally disclose financial or ownership information, analysts in 2009 estimated Craigslist’s annual revenue to be more than $150 million. The online auction firm eBay bought approximately 25 percent of the company in 2004, though Newmark himself is still believed to own the largest stake. Despite its for-profit status, Craigslist has maintained its dot-org URL, explaining that the web address “symbolizes the relatively non-commercial nature, public service mission, and non-corporate culture of craigslist.”
Newmark dismissing the idea that Craigslist killed newspapers as “urban legend”:
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