Newspaper proprietors and employees should get nervous. Craigslist, the classified advertising website known as the "killer" of newspapers in the US, predicted yesterday it will see exponential growth in the UK.
The company, which takes 8 million new classified ads worldwide every month, has sites dedicated to 12 UK cities, including Oxford which was launched last month.
Craigslist ads are free, except for job advertisements in three American cities. According to estimates, the website has sucked $50m (£28m) a year out of the ad market in the San Francisco bay area alone, where the company started in 1995.
In the UK, the company's profile has so far been low key. It began with a London site two years ago and its other cities now include Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Craigslist does not advertise its services as it has no marketing budget and instead relies on word of mouth. In the US, it is one of the best-known websites, and it is the seventh most visited English language site in the world, with nearly 4 billion page views a month.
Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive, said there was 200 per cent growth in traffic to its UK sites last year. Craigslist gets 10 million page views a month in the UK and 25,000 new classified ads per month.
"That's not too shabby," Mr Buckmaster said. "There isn't nearly the awareness in the UK [of Craigslist].... What we've seen in the US is the graph [in a new city] slowly accelerating. Then, at some point it goes straight up."
Mr Buckmaster, who was on a visit to London, said once awareness in the city builds, Craigslist has seen growth - measured in visits to the site - of between 800 and 1,000 per cent a year. He said he saw no reason why UK cities would not follow this pattern, already demonstrated in the US. "We just wait for word of mouth to take over. That way you also get more interesting and cohesive users, people who were referred to us by their friends or family."
Craigslist operates in 205 cities in 35 countries. About 90 per cent of new ads per month are placed in the US.
Mr Buckmaster said the impact of Craigslist on newspaper revenues had been exaggerated. "We make a nice bogeyman. But we're really a proxy for the challenges that newspapers face from the internet."
Mr Buckmaster said many of the ads that Craigslist carried were posted only because it was free, so they should not be regarded as ads that would otherwise have gone to newspapers. He added that other websites employed large sales forces to drum up business, but Craigslist employed no sales people.
It is in cities such as Paris, Cairo and Bangkok, but its sites are configured in English, although postings can be in other languages. Mr Buckmaster said the company was considering starting local language versions but that would involve increasing the size of Craigslist's staff of just 19.Reuse content