Rich Skrenta dissects why Craigslist is so effective, in a must-read piece. Now it’s time to consider exactly how effective it is.

If the Genie of the Market were to offer you all of the future earnings from EBay or Craigslist, which would you take? I’d take Craigslist.

Note that I’m talking about the strengths of the business models here. I’m fully aware that EBay owns 25% of Craigslist, so to say that Craigslist the company is worth more than EBay the company, I’d be saying that the capitalized Craigslist business model earnings are equal to twice the capitalized EBay business model earnings, and that is not what I’m saying. For evaluating the above numbers, look at the earnings generated by the business models, or assume that EBay owns 0% of Craigslist.

Estimating Valuation by listings

Craigslist currently carries 6M ads per month. At least 200,000 of these listings are job postings. They are in close to 200 cities (looking at their home page). They probably only have critical mass in about ten of those cities or less (from some casual browsing).

Currently, Craigslist charges only for Job postings, and only in three cities. Taken from Craigslist itself, we can see the rates:

CraigslistJobFees.png

And now they are adding fees for apartments in NY, and jobs in Washington DC, San Diego, Boston, and Seattle. Basically, as soon as a category in a city hits unassailable critical mass, look out!

So, jobs alone is today worth about $5 Million per month ($25 * 200K). Craigslist isn’t monetizing it all, but the direction and the intent are both clear.

Of course, Craigslist will eventually be able to charge for jobs, apartments, real estate, cars, a little bit for personals, vacation rentals, services, big local items, and in some countries, small EBay items. Notice that online, each of those 7-8 other categories is on the same order of magnitude as jobs, or bigger. The EBay items part may need some clarification – in countries where the development of the Internet precedes the development of a reliable postal system, more product commerce will happen over a Craigslist-style local system than over an EBay-style national system.

If Craigslist only monetizes half of these, that’s $20M per month. All of them and it’s $40M per month.

But Craigslist is still growing. A LOT.

Here are some stats that Craigslist itself has been handing out (these are about three months old):

Growth

Overall Page View Growth Rate (all cities combined) for last 12 months: 195%

Raleigh, NC: 13M pages/month +800% last 12 mos
Vancouver, BC: 21M pages/month +675% last 12 mos
Dallas, TX: 22M pages/month +650% last 12 mos
Minneapolis: 21M pages/month +625% last 12 mos

Can they double in size within a year? Easily. More likely, Craigslist will triple or quadruple in size before growth starts slowing significantly. Our previous range of $20-$40M / month now goes to $40 – $160M / month (as we make more guesses, our accuracy goes down, of course). The midpoint has us at $100M in revenue per month, or about $1.2B per year!

Try it another way: Take 6M listings a month. Multiply by 10 as they hit critical mass in 100 cities, as opposed to approximately 10 cities today. Multiply by 2 since existing cities like NY, LA, SF will continue to grow. Charge for a mere 10% of the listings, and charge $10 per listing (that’s a steal compared to the newspapers, and lower than Craigslist’s current rates. It’s also an average charge of $1 per listing). That’s $1.4 Billion in revenue per year. Their cost is near-zero (no content, no marketing, community-based customer service, a dozen engineers). After taxes, that’s still $1B in profit per year. Give them EBay’s P/E and it’s worth $50+ Billion.

I’m not adjusting the P/E for the fact that they are growing much, much faster than EBay (although that will inevitably slow down), or that their international opportunity is larger than EBay’s (that pesky postal system thing again).

Traffic Check:

Here’s another fun way to look at it. Alexa and other ranking sites mis-classify Craigslist as a community site. It has a traffic rank of 33 on Alexa (up from #40 when I wrote my first draft of this article last November!!), but if you were to consider it as a commerce site (it’s classifieds, after all), it would be the 4th largest one, right behind Amazon, Ebay, and Yahoo.

Craigslist’s growth has actually picked UP. How many big, successful companies are doing that?

2005 has been a great year for Craigslist.

Of course, for the other classifieds sites, it’s a massacre:

So, will Craig take the money? Well, 25% of the company already belongs to EBay (they bought it from a co-founder of Craig’s). Of the remainder, undoubtedly some is in the hands of employees. Craig is probably somewhere between 50% and 60%. He may want to give some of it to charity. Or family. Inevitably, he will own less than 50%. At that point, you can bet that the company will embrace capitalism and the virtues of liquidity.

Craigslist is a dot-org no more. It’s a supercharged monopoly in the making for the single most monetizable category in the world (high-ticket items and classifieds), tripling or better year-over-year. And Craig Newmark, Customer Service Representative, is worth more than Larry Page or Sergei Brin.

The real story is that Craig is well on his way to building an EBay / Yahoo! sized business with no venture capital, no big-shot management, no marketing, no patents, no real technology, etc. He’s taken all the value from newspapers with none of the cost. And everyone loves him for it (probably because he’s leaving the money on the table). That’s the power of the Internet.