biloxi — Each day The Sun Herald carries hundreds of advertisements for items being offered for less than $100. The free classified advertisements take up the first two pages of the classified section, and are one of the most popular features of the newspaper.
“Free ads are just a great idea for readership building,” said Carolyn Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association. “Of course, all the papers are looking for ways to build readership. If this works well for The Sun Herald, there may be other papers in the state that will try this also.”
Readers benefit by being able to sell lower cost items that wouldn’t be worth purchasing an advertisement to sell. And buyers are also happy to snap up bargains.
“There is a benefit both ways whether you are a buyer or a seller,” Wilson said. “People just love to read the classifieds whether they are really looking for a particular item or not. People will scan the classifieds every day. Some people buy the paper because that is the section that they are after. Most readership surveys show that the classified section is one of the primary reasons people buy the paper.”
Ricky Mathews, director of marketing for The Sun Herald, said more papers around the country are starting to run free classifieds.
“Maybe we are a little early in this process, but a lot of the local products like the Penny Pincher give away ads as well,” Mathews said. “The bottom line really is that it is a good reader service. We typically did not have items for less than $100 in our paper. We knew that if we were going to bring more readers for The Sun Herald, and have a classified section that brought results, we needed to have more of the things that people want. People aren’t going to spend $25 to sell an item that would cost $25 or $30. Classified ads for items less than $100 are typically too expensive. Either people don’t sell them or they sell them by other means like garage sales.”
Mathews said one of the main reasons people read the newspaper is to look at advertising, specifically classified advertising. So having a large number of ads in the paper that normally wouldn’t be in there increases readership.
“We are confident that we have brought many, many new readers to The Sun Herald because of the free classified ads,” he said. “I think we are engaging a lot of people. The results have been incredible. People come in here and put ads in the paper, and are selling their items almost immediately. The success stories are innumerable. People get addicted to reading the free ads.”
Sometimes the items sold are worth more than $100. For example, one person in Jackson County advertised a boathouse under the terms: you move it and you can have it. Mathews has used the ads himself to sell one refrigerator, buy another, and to purchase a nativity scene and an aquarium.
Scanning the ads also gives a good idea of what lower cost items are hot. For example, there are usually dozens of ads offering Beanie Babies. Used furniture is very popular, and this time of year there are even advertisements for small boats selling for under $100.
It is a lot of work for the newspaper taking hundreds of calls daily for the free advertising section. But Mathews said it is worth it.
“As we bring more people into our classified section, everyone benefits: the car dealers, employers, etc.,” he said. “So advertisers sell more cars and homes, rent more apartments, and fill more jobs. It has a domino effect. That is just one of the mechanisms that bring people over to The Sun Herald brand classifieds. We manage The Sun Herald classifieds as a brand. It is a product, not just another section of the newspaper.”