Remember the classified ads?
Years ago each Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper boasted a thick (broadsheet) section of classified advertisements. It included a large array of for-sale items, from cars to boats, motorbikes, furniture, electrical goods, white-goods, jewellery…there were thousands upon thousands of ads each week.
It was the go-to place to advertise if you were trying to sell something. And the starting point for buyers seeking anything from a bird-cage to a barbecue or a BMW.
The Herald’s classifieds were so profitable they were known as ‘Rivers of Gold’. But that was years ago. In the intervening years, social media appeared and reduced the rivers to barely a trickle. Most advertising these days takes place on digital platforms, which are dominated by Facebook and Google.
I was thinking about this change recently. Not that long ago I had to sell a car. Go back 10-15 years and the typical process would have been to place a classified advertisement in the local newspaper. A 3-4 line classified ad cost about $300—it was not cheap. And the thing was, you had no way of knowing how many people were going to read the ad.
When I sold my car, an ageing but defiant Subaru, I placed an ad on Gumtree, Australia’s most popular online marketplace. It cost nothing. Yep, it was free, even with half-a-dozen photos thrown in! Within hours I received 5-6 text messages from prospective buyers and the car sold within 24 hours.
It made me think how disruptive’ social media has been. Not that long ago, direct access to large audiences was restricted to powerful media barons—with sufficient capital to own either a printing press or a radio or television broadcasting licence. Readers, listeners and viewers had to pay a substantial (advertising) fee for the privilege of accessing that audience.
But these days anyone with a smartphone and internet connection can potentially access a large audience. Social media has given ordinary people a very powerful voice. Indeed, some people would say it has been as revolutionary as the invention of the printing press!