The Yellow Pages: An Indirect Obituary

So far this year, I’ve met with 92 companies in seven states. When I meet with a business owner or manager for the first time, there are two questions I always ask when we get around to advertising:

1. What advertising is working best for you these days? I get a variety of answers to this question — sometimes TV, sometimes radio or direct mail, occasionally newspaper.

2. Is there anything you’re doing that’s not working, or that you’re not sure of? To this question, the overwhelming winner — or more accurately, the overwhelming loser — is the Yellow Pages.

For decades, the Yellow Pages was a no-brainer. Everyone had one, everyone used it, and a business simply had to have a major presence there to compete.

No longer. The Internet has replaced the phone book, and the telecommunications companies know it. In New Jersey and New York, Verizon has asked regulators for permission to stop delivering the White Pages to its customers. According to the Newark Star-Ledger:

Telephone books, those once indispensable directories that still land with a thud on every doorstep, may soon be heading the way of the rotary dial.

Verizon, the state’s dominant land line company, is pressing regulators to allow it to stop annual delivery of millions of residential White Pages to its New Jersey customers. The telecommunications firm said it would save 1,400 tons of paper annually by stopping distribution in the state.

It is part of a nationwide effort by phone companies to scale back production of the thick volumes, which, in the digital age, have become increasingly obsolete. Verizon has a similar request before state regulators in New York, while AT&T has already received approval to stop delivering White Pages in states such as Florida and Ohio.

The reason they’re doing this is simple: it costs a lot of money to print and deliver millions of books that nobody ever opens.

They’re still happy to print and deliver the Yellow Pages, though — not because it benefits their customers, but because it still generates revenue for the phone companies and the publishers.

Does it still generate revenue for the advertisers? What we’re hearing around the country is that it doesn’t. An increasing number of long-time Yellow Pages advertisers has drastically cut back or even eliminated their presence without seeing any adverse effects.

There are some exceptions to this: if you’re targeting low-income communities, or rural areas that don’t have reliable broadband access, the Yellow Pages may still be an effective way of reaching customers. And it remains a great source of leads for radio and television salespeople.

But for the vast majority of consumers, the “real” Yellow Pages is now Google.

When’s the last time you opened a phone book?


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2 thoughts on “The Yellow Pages: An Indirect Obituary

  1. In media years, three years is an awfully long time; the change was already happening in 2007, but it has certainly accelerated in the past three years.In 2010, the print Yellow Pages is a dinosaur.

    It’s also worth noting that the company who commissioned that 2007 study, TMP Directional Marketing, has a direct financial stake in Yellow pages Advertising — it’s always possible to construct a survey so that the numbers come out in your favor.