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The Kelsey Group Puts Print Yellow Pages On Notice

Walking FingersOver at Media Post, The Kelsey Group is quoted today saying that the erosion in usage of print yellow pages is likely to fall off at a higher rate this year — by 10% this year, compared with only 2% to 3% erosion in recent years.

They state that a combination of factors such as more users going to internet yellow pages and local search engines combined with a recession are propelling the rapid erosion. Concerningly, one can extrapolate that if print YP usage is dropping, advertiser dollars might also follow the herd.

As Greg Sterling points out, The Kelsey Group has historically been a very staunch defender of the print YP industry, so this article is a bit of a gut-punch to people in the legacy print business, even though anyone watching the trends over the last few years won’t find it all that surprising.

One thing the Media Post article doesn’t mention is how a number of smaller, regional print yellow pages companies have had surprising growth in ad sales over the past year, likely at the expense of the larger yellow pages directory sales. As Greg further points out, some of the smaller, nimble companies like ReachLocal (who are frenemies with the yellow pages industry) may be poised to take over the small business advertiser base as those companies’ agencies of choice if the yellow pages industry cannot retain them. Yellow pages has held a home court advantage with small businesses for a long time, but there are a lot of hungry wolves nipping at their heels, and they will need to retain their advertisers while transitioning them over from print to online advertising in order to retain revenue over the long term.

I’ve suggested before that the concept of “yellow pages” itself might also be endangered in its online incarnation, since specialized directories and local search engines may now be obscuring the need for “traditional” yellow pages websites in the eyes of consumers. Indeed, I see a new generation of young consumers who barely seem to know what “yellow pages” is, and this could explain why fewer and fewer people seem to be trying to find yellow pages in Google:

Yellow Pages Usage Declining

(click to enlarge)

So, yellow pages companies have some multi-fold challenges to face. They must strive to transform themselves from being only print yellow pages into being a liked/trusted agency that small businesses perceive are vital/useful for getting their ads into multiple sites throughout the internet, and they simultaneously need to transform their traditional yellow pages directory websites into local information portals with broader appeal and compelling stickiness to attract and retain the newer generation of users.

The bigger yellow pages companies are aware of all this, and are not to be counted out of fight yet. Unlike the newspaper industry which has been a little late in adapting to the internet paradigm, yellow pages are adapting themselves to protect their competitiveness in the market, and the analyst warnings are only intensifying their attention and resolve.

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7 comments for The Kelsey Group Puts Print Yellow Pages On Notice »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    Haven’t used a YP in a long time. What a waste of paper.

    Comment by David Temple — 1/12/2008 @ 6:00 am

  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    Kelsey has been predicting the end of the printed yellow pages for 20 years. The prediction is biased and self serving as Kelsey’s customer list is filled with internet companies (including Google).
    Before you accept Kelsey’s opinion on face value, examine the detail and methodology supporting the conclusion. I believe that the internet is simply another vehicle that connects buyers and sellers, much like TV, Newspapers, Radio etc…When a person wants to buy a good/service locally and does not know who they want to purchase from, the printed yellow pages is the high speed search. It also provides a much higher return on investment to small local business owners than IYP’s and search engines.

    Comment by Bruce Howard — 1/14/2008 @ 8:52 am

  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    You also have to consider the peer-produced and wiki movements that result in projects like The Brownbook (

    Comment by Jerry — 1/15/2008 @ 10:10 am

  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    You say, “Legacy print business”. Is that what do you call a slow moving dying industry? Kelsey group is well defended by the statements that they make. They by no means are unfounded?

    Comment by Martin Snytsheuvel — 1/16/2008 @ 10:31 am

  5. MyAvatars 0.2

    Martin, “Legacy” sorta has some connotations of things that have been obviated to a certain degree by contemporary development, but which continue on for a while longer due to impetus or short-term ROI. Sorta like “legacy code”.

    I don’t believe I was really attacking what the Kelsey Group was saying nor suggesting that their statements were unfounded. I agree with their assessment. I was just remarking on how it was striking that with this statement they became a lot more bearish on print YP right here in 2008 rather than just at some vague point in the future, and this is certainly concerning for people who work in the industry. I also was just pointing out that those companies intend to bolster and protect their revenues however they might.

    I’ve written before on how new tech applied to the print medium might actually be able to turn the trend back around (see “Could Nanotechnology Save Print Yellow Pages?“), and I also know that many of those companies are shifting their focus and investment from print to internet.

    So, yes, print seems headed downhill. But, the companies behind print also are involved in internet which is moving upward, so those companies are not to be considered out of viability.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 1/16/2008 @ 6:45 pm

  6. MyAvatars 0.2 will contact the telephone book publishers to stop the unsolicited delivery of telephone books. is not an anti-Yellow Page organization. Just against the delivery of books to people and businesses that do not want them. They allow users to “opt out” from receiving them. Here are phone numbers of the publishers if you would like to call them instead: The directory publishers listed make it possible for you to stop receiving their books, but they don’t make it easy. None of the menu options includes “opting-out”.

    — ATT/ Yellow Pages: 1-800-479-2977
    — Verizon: 800-555-4833, press 4, then 5, then 2
    — DEX: 1-877-243-8339, press 2
    — Yellow Book: 1-800-929-3556, press 2

    Comment by kc — 4/9/2008 @ 4:28 pm

  7. MyAvatars 0.2

    The Kelsey Group Puts Print Yellow Pages On Notice : Natural Search Blog…

    Over at Media Post, The Kelsey Group is quoted today saying that the erosion in usage of print yellow pages is likely to fall off at a higher rate this year — by 10% this year, compared with only 2% to 3% erosion in recent years….

    Trackback by — 6/26/2008 @ 5:07 pm

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