A Newspaper’s Clandestine Response to Craigslist Coming to Town

This is big. The Bakersfield Californian has debuted a free-classifieds site called Bakotopia (now in beta), which is a direct response to the forces that are slowly killing segments of newspaper classifieds. Aimed at Bakersfield’s younger segment — those who don’t read the newspaper, nor its classifieds — Bakotopia is a community classifieds site a la Craigslist that does not charge people to post ads.

Craigslist is now in Bakersfield, as is a new Craigslist competitor, ZiXXo. As the Californian‘s executives apparently have figured out, their traditional print and online classifieds can’t compete with Craig for the young demographic, so it’s time to fight fire with fire.

What’s the business model? Product manager Dan Pacheco (whose other life is as president of Colorado-based consultancy FutureForecast) says the plan is to build as large of an audience as possible, then down the road perhaps charge for some ads — though that’s not anticipated for some time. This is the Craigslist model: Craig’s city sites don’t charge for ads, except in a couple major markets where the company has begun charging for employment and some rental ads. Pacheco says other ideas for Bakotopia to make money are being discussed, but nothing’s yet ready to be talked about publicly.

Bakotopia is clearly aimed at the young people of Bakersfield. It is NOT branded with the Californian name. The site’s About page has no reference whatsoever to the newspaper. You’d only figure out the connection if you knew that Bakotopia parent Mercado Nuevo LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Californian.

What’s to keep Bakotopia from hurting the Californian‘s branded print and online classifieds? It will. Perhaps not much in the short run, but certainly in the long.

I wonder about the site’s strategy for aiming only at the young crowd. Craigslist is now used by young and old, so the strategy of making Bakotopia exclusively the domain of the young could be a mistake for the long term. But it’s early. The model can and surely will change as Pacheco and newspaper executives watch how the Bakersfield public responds and uses the site — and figure out how to make money from giving away classifieds. (Besides, what newspaper executive is ever going to write off on a business plan to create a free-classifieds site that competes directly with the paper’s traditional paid classifieds?)

Is this the answer to the Craigslist juggernaut coming to cities and towns (worldwide)? Stay tuned.

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