Technological evolution continues to change our everyday lives, and the speed of changes over the last two decades has caused an acceleration of impacts to traditional forms of business. Nowhere is this more evident than in the impact to usage of printed yellow pages directories. Once the mainstay for locating businesses, many consumers now treat the booksÂ as doorstops or fireplace kindling.
The Yellow Pages Association ‘s annual report and other research indicates that consumer usage of print directories is on the decline while usage of online yellow pages and local search are increasing. The main divergence of opinion seems to be in how long it will be before print dies completely – ten years, fifty years, or a century? Simba  research indicates that profits of core yellow pages are down while independent publishers are increasing at double-digit rates,Â indicating that advertisers continue to see value in print YP exposure. Even though the print biz still has lots of money and usage, those who have watched tech trendsÂ during the Information Age know that transitions of this sort can often reach a tipping point rapidly, perhaps rendering print YP irrelevant at the closer end of the timeline estimates.
In all the rush to sound the death-knell for print most folks are looking upon it asÂ merely aÂ dinosaur, soon to die as a result of the meteor-strike of internet search technology. But, could there be another future in storeÂ for print directories?
I’ve been watching developments in a number of converging lines of technology for a while now, and I foresee another potential fate for the print directories: nanotechnology. Read on and I’ll explain.
There are a lot of reasons why consumers with internet access are increasingly turning away from print in favor of internet. I’d say the three prime ones are: having more information available to base selections upon, having broader access to service/product providers not found in a limited-area book, and the ability to search in a number of ways.
The main reason that some people continue to use print yellow pages instead of IYPs orÂ local search enginesÂ would appear to be that there are people who still don’t have ready access to the internet. Lack of access is a situation that seems destined to wane, however. PC costs may continue to be pushed lower by tech improvements and market competition. Cellphones may increasingly offer internet access, and associated costs may also be pushed lower by competitive market pressure. And, free WiFi access seems destined to increase: more and more businesses offer this service for customers at their premises, and some cities are even experimenting with providing it for citizens. Google has even been experimenting with providing WiFi , paid by advertising fees, with someÂ people suspecting they could even intend to rollout such service nationwide, what with their purchasing up the dark fiber throughout the US.
AnÂ advantage that hardcopy books may have over internet is ease of reading coupled with the tactile sensation of easily holding the content in one’s hands. For this reason, printed novels and other books continue to be preferred by consumers far above e-books.
So, what if a yellow pages directory bookÂ could combine the best of both worlds? What ifÂ you could hold a directory inÂ your hands which contained all the same information found on the internet? What if you could locate nearby providers, read up on details of their offerings, view user-ratings for them, then see a map of where they’re located, all in a book you hold in your hands?
The concept doesn’t seem all that far-fetched any more. Theoretically, it should be possible now to create a book where the pages can electronically change display, and the book could hook up via WiFi to the internet to access all the same info that people are now getting through their laptops and cellphones. My PDA already does this, but the experience isn’t great just because of the size of the display screen, and the display isn’t similar in experience to viewing info on a printed page.
Nanotechnology has nowÂ enabled the creation of thin, flexible, full-color,Â electronic paper display screens  which are poised to further transform our day-to-day lives and we view information in our environment.
Nano development has further decreased the costs of memory storage devices, enabling products such as Apple’s iPod and iPod nano’s to store thousands of audio files, images, and videosÂ inside relatively tiny devices.
Wireless technology has progressed as well, allowing laptops, tiny cellphones and other devices like my PDAÂ to link up with networks.
If someone were to link all these technologies together, it would be possible to create a dynamic, interactive yellow pages book which connects online to allow access to extensive information about businesses already found within internet yellow pages and local search services.
Ah, but wouldn’t the cost be prohibitive, you may be thinking? One might as well buy a laptop for that sort of price, right? And, yellow pages are given away to consumers!Â Well, the truth is that the cost barrier may disappear for this sort of thing within just a few scant years. Late last year, I attended a majorÂ conference on nanotechnology, nano TX , here in Dallas which was attended by international representatives such as theÂ Duke of York . According to experts in the field such as James R. Von Ehr II, CEO of Zyvex Corporation , the costs of fabricating smaller computing and display devices is dropping so rapidly that it’ll likely become cost-effective to provide video games on the backs of cereal boxes within three years.
If you combine full-color, flexible electronic paper display screens in a book that is little more than a thin-client internet access device attaching via WiFi, you may be able to produce the next evolutionary level of hardcopy yellow pages books. There could be a lot of advantages to this. No more environmental impact to trees, and distribution costs could be slashed. The old, traditional practices of selling display ads onÂ a price scale based on placement, column-size, and other features could also translate in some ways to this modern, new hybrid medium if YP ad specifications are evolved over. These directories could be ever-green, with the latest information, always up-to-date.
Considering the sheer profits and amounts of investment that many corporations have in the print directory medium, it’d be surprising if some of them aren’t already working upon a nanotech yellow pages book as I’ve described. If Von Ehr is right about how soon the cost of this technology will drop, then the time to be performing R&D on an eventual interactive YP book is now.
Can this concept really be called “print” at this point? Maybe not. But it’s clear that it could provide a path for evolving a new version of hardcopy directories, and the industry appears to be confronted with a choice of evolving or becoming extinct. I compare it to print because the viewing experience of the graphic page/display is being made much more similar to the printed medium by the new technologies.
Don’t write off the print yellow pages yet — there could be a surprising amount of life left in the old standby. Nanotech could be the savior of the legacy Yellow Pages print book business.