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Print Yellow Pages Vs. Online Yellow Pages / Local Search

I was noticing that Paul Haahr, an engineer I met at Google Dance last September, mentioned on his blog in January that he doesn’t like traditional print yellow pages [1]. He consideres them to be something of a dinosaur, and his attitude is clearly communicated by his habit of leaving them to be turned into a pile of gray sludge by the rain on his doorstep when they’re delivered to his neighborhood. (I’m okay with him neglecting his directory in this way, since it’s an AT&T phone book.)

As a longtime employee of Verizon’s yellow pages directory company, I probably should act completely horrified at Paul’s disparagement of the well-established printed books, but I have to agree with his take on the matter. Print yellow pages don’t give me all the info I’m wanting any more, and the book has become something of an annoyance. It takes up space in my house, and it seems like the new replacement is always showing up about the time that I’ve only just gotten around to shelving the previous one. Online yellow pages and internet search sites have given me everything that I need.

Paul’s take on the matter is so amusing to me because it strikes a resonance with my own feelings about the whole thing. It’s a bit ironic to me (and it feels slightly disloyal!), because when I started at SuperPages nine years ago, I couldn’t really conceive of throwing away my phone books. Back then, we almost couldn’t imagine people choosing to use our online YP, because it was faster to look stuff up in the books rather than trying to use our online service!

But, stuff’s changed a whole lot. People have continuous and speedy connections to the internet, and our site responds back to queries a lot faster than in the old days. I can’t even hope to find everything I want in the print directory any more — it can’t tell me what theatre, store, restaurant, etc. is closest to my home or office. Since I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I’d likely have to page through about 10 small city directories and perform distance interpolation on a map to figure out which businesses were closest to me! Fun (and geeky!) exercise, but I don’t have time for that.

Considering all this, why haven’t print yellow pages disappeared altogether? For that reason, why do merchants still spend significant amounts of their advertising budgets to have presence in the books? Are the printed books still a good business proposition? Surprisingly, they are indeed still worthwhile — read on and I’ll explain.

There’s still lots of situations where people use printed phonebooks. I use them when I find them in hotel rooms, when I’m travelling. When looking for a business in an unfamiliar neighborhood, people sometimes stop at a gas station, convenience store, or grocery store, and look the info up in a copy of the yellow pages they may have on hand. Finally, there are people who either don’t have internet service still, or who just use the printed book instead of online because it’s more familiar to them.

How do we know that people are still using the printed books? Well, quite simply, some businesses use phone numbers that are only appearing in particular printed directories, and they still are getting business through them. There can be other clues, too, like specially promoted discounts or coupons that may only appear in the directories.

Print yellow pages may be on the decline, but they continue to be a highly profitable business, and current analysts’ predictions suggest they may be around for another ten years at least.

But businesses had better not be too complacent, even so.

Those of us who are converted to only using online directories are a highly-desirable consumer demographic, so businesses who currently only focus on print need to wake up and broaden to include online advertising in their promotional repertoire.

Print YP may be a dinosaur, but it hasn’t breathed its last gasps yet. For now, print and online continue to thrive simultaneously.

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