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Craigslist will be adding $25 fees Oct. 22 for recruitment ads in four more markets: Boston; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego. The markets join New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco as cities where fees have been imposed on its mainstream recruitment ads. (In homebase SF, recruitment ads are $75.) Beyond an additional $10 fee for brokered housing in New York, ads remain free for "gigs," "odd jobs," domestic help and all other categories.

According to Classified Intelligence, Craigslist is already pulling in $30 million a year from such fees and is "sucking out" many millions more from newspapers and other recruitment sources that have seen a negative impact on their fee structure and overall ad units. San Diego Union Tribune reporter Kathryn Balint reports, for instance, that her newspaper's Web site, SignOn San Diego, charges $350 for 30 days. Monster.com charges $395 for 60 days, and San Diego Careers.com charges $65 for 60 days.

If history is a guide, little friction should be anticipated from the imposition of the new fees. When fees were first imposed in Los Angeles and New York City in August 2004, for instance, the absolute number of ads in those markets dropped significantly, but the remaining jobs were of much higher quality. Both markets, of course, have more than recovered their original share.

Craigslist, of course, is rationalizing the need for fees as a means to help reduce clutter from spam and reposting ads to stay on top of categories. The explanation is apparently good enough to its users, which comScore says have increased 99 percent in the past year. Unique users have climbed from 6.9 million in mid-2005 to 13.8 million in mid-2006.

I think the "public interest" explanation is plausible, too. But is it churlish to note, once again, that after several years of fees, it is wearing a little thin? In my opinion, Craigslist would also serve its public by beginning to tackle its scaling issues and growing beyond its status as a dumb bulletin board. Ideally, it would help its users cut through the clutter by making its site more searchable and adding a few basic features.

It would also benefit its users more by reaching out beyond its urban cores. The site is practically useless in most suburbs, where much of local commerce actually occurs. And if the small-by-design company can't handle such efforts, maybe the industrial-strength tech wizards at eBay, which owns 25 percent but has a "hands off" policy, can be called in to help?

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  1. Based on a recent interview with Craig on PBS, I seriously doubt that eBay will be called in to help (not that I think Craiglist needs any help).

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