Craigslist is a public service, CEO says

Kai Ryssdal Apr 21, 2008


Renita Jablonski: Time again for Conversations from the Corner Office.

If you’ve ever been in the market for a used sofa, an apartment or maybe a date, you’ve probably cruised craigslist. The no-frills Web site is the largest provider of classified ads in any medium. It gets about 30 million new ads each month, but only charges for about 6 percent of them. Craigslist likes to think of itself as a public service rather than a business, something that doesn’t sit well with similar profit-minded services. Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal brought that up with craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster.

Kai Ryssdal: If we went to the newspaper industry and asked them what they think of craigslist, they would probably respond with something that you can’t say on public radio. What do you say to criticism that craigslist gets that its taken the life out of the newspaper industry by cutting so sharply into classified ad sales?

Jim Buckmaster: Well, certainly we’re, you know, Internet classifieds in general and craigslist in part are one of the array of challenges that newspapers face. As far as the financial struggles that some newspapers have had, I notice that the publicly traded newspaper chains seem, a lot of them, to be carrying an enormous debt load left over from m&a activity. To my eye, that’s as much an explanation for any financial woes they have as certainly challenges posed by the Internet.

Ryssdal: Who’s your competition, then?

Buckmaster: Believe it or not, we don’t really think in terms of competition. In our eyes, 00:06:59.4 here, such that other companies to us don’t appear as competitors. Classifieds is an enormous space, in any event, with thousands of companies offering service both online and off. Basically, we just don’t have time to worry about what other companies are doing.

Ryssdal: Whether or not you choose the size you have to make substantial profit, you and the founder of this company, Craig Newmark, have outsized influence just because of how big this organization is on the Internet. What do you intend to use that influence for?

Buckmaster: Well, I think our primary influence is providing free classifieds ads to people to use to get everyday stuff done. I mean, we literally get e-mails from people who have found their spouse and their job and the place they’re living and their furnishings and their car or bicycle and a lot of their friends. In other words, they basically have assembled their entire lives off of craigslist, all for free. To us that’s a pretty broad calling, and we don’t feel the need to find some other activity to engage in as far as the site’s concerned.

Ryssdal: Jim Buckmaster is the chief executive at craigslist. Jim, thanks a lot for your time.

Buckmaster: Thanks for having me.

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