Facebook Marketplace Part I: Why college newspapers should be shaking in their boots

After Mashable cried wolf late last week with its announcement that Facebook’s marketplace was actually the third-party site Oodla, with a sponsored Facebook group, I was skeptically underwhelmed.

But this weekend, the bomb dropped.

The Facebook Marketplace is set to negatively impact college newspapers on a scale far greater than the unrest Craigslist has caused for newspapers of major metro markets. Whereas Craigslist must grow slowly (though steadily) in its new markets via word of mouth and press coverage in order to attain an audience, Facebook already has its audience captivated.

The numbers

An estimated 85% of college students in Facebook’s markets are already on Facebook, and Facebook claims 60% of its users log on to Facebook every day (via Mashable. So let’s look at the numbers here at The University of Kansas, and at the readership of KU’s student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan.

  • 24,000 enrollment at KU (approximate undergrad)
  • 85% of students are members of Facebook (20,4000 students)
  • 60% of these students use Facebook every day (12,240 students) and 85% of these students use Facebook at least once a week (17,340 students)
  • 84% of students read the Kansan at least once a week (20,160 students)
  • 33% of students visit Kansan.com at least once a week (8,000 students)
  • 5.4% of students have registered for hawkchalk.com (1,300 students)

But there are 31,073 members in the Kansas network on Facebook. So that’s a daily audience of 18,643 people, just for ads targeted toward people around KU.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Kansan’s print readership statistics compare rather well to Facebook membership. But the Kansan’s user base engages with the Kansan passively, on the receiving end of one-way communication. Students can’t interact with newsprint any more significantly than filling out a Sudoku or crumpling up pages to shoot at a waste basket.

This is where Facebook’s greatest advantage comes in. Because students are both the content creators and consumers, they are far more engaged in the product. There is no intermediary step between accessing Facebook content and posting to the Facebook Marketplace. Readers of the Kansan must get to a computer and visit hawkchalk.com to transition from reading the Kansan to posting an ad.

Not every student logging into Facebook will be checking the Marketplace consistently. But with ads incorporated into the News Feed and individual Profile pages, there will be plenty of Marketplace awareness and interaction - without any need for Facebook to pursue new users. After the first few days of the Marketplace, there are already 215 ads on KU’s Facebook network. Hawkchalk.com, the Kansan’s free classifieds website, only has 74 ads currently active.

The emerging war

Free student listings are only the first battle in this war between old and new media. The audience created by these free student listings is will eventually be sold to advertisers, creating revenue potentially greater than before students were given these services for free.

I am yet to see any sponsored Facebook Marketplace listings, and I do not know the details of how they are purchased. But I can reasonably assume that once the Marketplace is in full swing, with students everywhere posting free listings, Facebook will have created a strong, targeted, active user base that will be an ideal forum for businesses to reach students in search of jobs, housing, and second-hand stuff - the market formerly cornered by campus newspaper classifieds.

Once this happens, Facebook will move from dominating the college user base to capturing a significant share of local classified advertising dollars - at the expense of existing campus media.

Coming soon in Part II: How college newspapers can quit standing still and defend their turf for the future.

Link to this comment

Before I left The Roanoke Times / roanoke.com, they launched an interesting product aimed at the Virginia Tech and Radford college community called Big Lick University (http://www.biglicku.com).

It caused quite a stir among the college newspapers there because it was competing with student eyeballs and student-aimed advertisers.

But being that this product relies on traditional display ads and paid apartment listings, I'm curious if its life span might be limited with the release of Facebook Marketplace.

I'm looking forward to part two of this series!

May 15th 2007, 8:43 p.m. by Patrick Beeson
Link to this comment

Very insightful analysis, Ryan. Well done!

Newspapers (college or otherwise) should indeed be shaking in their boots if they sincerely expect to continue classified advertising to be a giant source of revenue for them in the new world. Facebook's Marketplace certainly emphasizes the point, but it's a point that any forward-thinking newspaper publisher should have been able to see coming for a while now. I can't imagine a future where classified ads are anything but free.

I guess what I'm getting at is: yes, newspaper publishers should be shaking in their boots. But they should have already been shaking in their boots before Facebook Marketplace. They should have been coming up with plans for find other revenue sources, because classifieds ain't it.

The is precisely the problem with the majority of the newspaper industry: it doesn't start shaking in their boots until the bomb has already dropped. It should have seen this coming.

May 15th 2007, 9:15 p.m. by Jeff Croft
Link to this comment

Patrick -

Big Lick U is definitely an interesting attempt at a college news / classifieds / whatever centralized hub. But it does seem to fill a different roll than Facebook's classifieds.

Jeff -

You're absolutely right. Back at the Kansan, we foresaw Facebook's entry into the market as we laid out our online classifieds plans last March. The current iteration of hawkchalk is a good start, but the product has a long way to go before it can turn its head start against Facebook into a lasting, successful product.

Sadly, most other college newspapers probably aren't as well off in this regard as the Kansan currently sits.

May 15th 2007, 9:52 p.m. by Ryan Berg
Link to this comment

Big Lick U is definitely an interesting attempt at a college news / classifieds / whatever centralized hub. But it does seem to fill a different roll than Facebook's classifieds.

Yes, BigLickU is more of a traditional social networking site with managed content aggregation using students. An online student information source with a profit-motive, so to speak.

I think were it would be affected by Facebook Marketplace is that student will bypass it in greater numbers. They already knew Facebook, MySpace and other networks would be competition -- the introduction of Marketplace simply adds another more arsenal.

I do agree with Jeff in that nobody I've spoken with in the newspaper industry is surprised at this news. In fact, many have asked what took them (Facebook) so long.

Question: How is Hawkchalk being marketed to the students at Kansas?

May 16th 2007, 8:39 a.m. by Patrick Beeson
Link to this comment

Classic example of commons based peer production taking over the old way of doing things. It's also a great example of the flattening of the market. If Facebook, in Palo Alto, can do a better job serving classifieds in Kansas then a local college paper has no chance.

I would imagine college papers look to student fees to make up for loss revenue.

May 16th 2007, 9:50 a.m. by Nathan Borror
Link to this comment

Here's a thought: what if something like hawkchalk displayed classifed from Facebook Marketplace? I don't know if Facebook has an API for Marketplace, but if they did, you could mash up both "local" listings and Facebook listing, creating added value for everyone.

And if they don't have an API, you could always scrape it with BeautifulSoup. ;)

May 16th 2007, 10:22 a.m. by Jeff Croft
Link to this comment

Hawkchalk has been marketed to students in several ways. First of all, since all the ads from hawkchalk.com go for free into the print classifieds of the Kansan, our classifieds section features many mentions of its integration with hawkchalk.com. And each line ad from the site ends with, "hawkchalk.com/#ID" where #ID is the ID of the ad to see the full version on the site.

We also have run ads in our ROP product and special sections, typically touting hawkchalk as the best place to find a new roommate. Since hawkchalk is marketed as "free ads for all" we integrated quotes from the Kansan's "Free for All" section, where students call a voicemail and leave stupid messages that get printed in the paper.

These can be seen here:

Medium rectangle ads also ran in house positions on kansan.com

On launch day, we went around with temporary spray chalk and templates of our logo, spraying our logo all over the sidewalks of campus. Turns out the chalk wasn't so temporary after all, and 9 months later many logos are still out there.

We've also been giving away t-shirts with our logo. Sometimes we'd just go out on campus with shirts and flyers handing them out. Sometimes we'd give them away as prizes for doing certain things. And all staff members frequently wear their shirts proudly.

Flyers also cover most bulletin boards on campus, prompting students not to waste their time putting up flyers, and to use hawkchalk.com instead.

The best promotion we did for hawkchalk was for the NCAA tournament. We did a really cool online bracket, where instead of picking the winner of each game, students had to pick the answer of a different challenge for each game. One game might be, "Which team will commit the most turnovers," while another could be, "Which team will score the last basket of the first half?"

Here's an example of the ads we ran for this product. The game also held a rather prominent place on kansan.com's homepage for the duration of the tournament.

Registration for the game was only open for about two days, and was tied into our hawkchalk user database. In these two days, our membership grew more than 25%.

May 16th 2007, 11:38 a.m. by Ryan Berg
Link to this comment

Nathan - For some newspapers, relying on student fees may be the way to go.

But for papers like the Kansan, which are actually independent entities from their universities, this isn't a viable option.

The Kansan is pretty much completely supported by advertising sales done by its all-student staff. The students at the Kansan sell over $1 million a year in advertising.

Jeff -

I've been playing around with Facebook's API for the last week (for other reasons, though). The challenge of getting data from Facebook is that even with its API, the client must manually log in via Facebook's login page. So despite the available python bindings, a python script can't just hop in, get the data it wants, and get back out. If Facebook were to be nice and provide RSS feeds, this would be much easier. Using BeautifulSoup doesn't solve the problem of needing to manually log in.

What will be useful, however, is using Facebook's "Share" functions to spread out hawkchalk's ads... See Part II.

May 16th 2007, 11:47 a.m. by Ryan Berg
Link to this comment

Makes sense, Ryan. My problem with RSS feeds is that I perceive them to be unstable. They only contain the latest however-many entries. So, say you run a cron job every 10 minutes to pick up the feed. But, crap, something went wrong and your cron job broke. You didn't notice it for two days. All those entries are no longer in the feed. Your'e screwed.

This is why I despise the idea of doing the Lifestream/Tumblelog/Tumblr thing with RSS feeds. APIs are much more stable and robust.

But yeah -- an RSS feed could work in a pinch. :)

May 16th 2007, 1:51 p.m. by Jeff Croft
Link to this comment

Very good points. You definitely have more experience pulling data from feeds than I do. But heck, why not have the function grabbing RSS feeds and copying the data locally send out an email to the admin if something's broken and it can't get the data it needs?

Obviously APIs are the better way to go. In the case of the Facebook Marketplace right now though, neither API access or RSS parsing is an option.

May 16th 2007, 3:21 p.m. by Ryan Berg

Comments are disabled for this item