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Yard sale report: Print ain’t dead


I learned two things from my yard sale this weekend:

  • No one appreciates my taste in clothing;
  • And a classified ad I paid for was just as effective as free online ads at drawing potential customers.
  • I was curious about the best way to draw people to my yard sale for obvious reasons. Sure, I wanted to make some money. But more importantly, sales of classified ads in newspapers have plummeted with the advent of free services such as Craigslist. A lot of journalists, including many of my friends, have lost their jobs in part because of lost classified revenue. I thought I’d try a little experiment just to see which method of advertising worked best.

    For my yard sale, I set up an ad on Craigslist, and a free ad on mySA, the Web site of the San Antonio Express-News. These were both convenient. I could type whatever description I wanted with no space concerns. I also uploaded photos. Craigslist had a max of four photos. The Express-News Web site allowed me to upload one photo for free, and I could upload more if I wanted to pay for it.

    Related: How to contact an investigative journalist in Texas

    Setting up the classified ad in the newspaper felt like the most archaic method. I had to call the paper, dictate what I wanted it to say, and use sparse wording in an effort to limit the number of lines. I also couldn’t upload photos. Then I had to fork over my credit card number. It normally would cost $25 to run a three-line ad Friday and Saturday, but Express-News employees get a discount. The whole experience was pretty old school. I felt like a coal-stained waif in a Charles Dickens novel.

    On Friday, I was open for business and posted a yard sign. Every time a group of people arrived at my garage sale, I asked how they heard about it.

    A total of 24 groups of people came by the house. By far the most effective way of drawing attention was the yard sign. Living near a street with lots of traffic and neighbors who wanted to buy stuff didn’t hurt.

    Craigslist and the classified ad in the newspaper were the second most effective methods of advertising. The mySA online ad was slightly worse.


    When you look at total sales, I made the most money from people who lived nearby or saw the yard sign. I made some money from the classified ad in the newspaper and the mySA ad online. And no money from people who learned of my yard sale from Craigslist:


    When you deduct the cost of the classified ad, sales were about even between the ad in the paper and the ad online.

    Here’s a link to the raw data.

    All advertising methods paled in comparison to an old-school yard sign and the prime location of the sale (my house is on West Summit near busy Zarzamora Street). Still, I was a bit surprised by how many people read the tiny classified ad in the paper. It was right up there with Craigslist, which I used in the past to sell my car with no problems. On Craigslist, you can write anything you want with no worries about limited space, and upload pictures. But the tiny gray classified ads in the paper apparently still attract eyeballs. One of my first sales was a woman who bought a ton of stuff, and she had read the classifieds.

    I wasn’t hardcore about this experiment to the point where I asked people their ages. That’d be weird. However, one of the people who found me on Craigslist was an elderly man who mentioned he lives in a trailer in Hondo. So I’m not making any assumptions about trendy, youthful Craigslist readers vs. oldtimer newspaper readers.

    I guess different people have different preferences. And some people still like sitting down in the morning with a cup of coffee and a pen, and circling the tiny, cryptic classified ads that capture their interest.

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