You Know the Yellow Pages Are Dead When…

I am moving; for joy, for joy. I hate moving but it seems I move regularly. I think this is trait passed on to me by my parents because they never lived anywhere for more than 10 years. I think it’s part of a gypsy heritage.

When I was young I can remember how the phone book was an invaluable tool. You would find notes scribbled on the covers and circles, arrows and margin notes on the inside pages. For most of my adult life, I lived in small town America. The phone book was important to be sure, albeit a tiny book with few pages. It fit in a drawer next to the phone on the wall and was quite light to pick up.

I moved to Southern California a few years ago. One of the first things that amazed me was the huge books I found plopped on my doorstep each year. A mammoth white pages and an even larger Yellow Pages. So, anyway, I found myself moving the other day and under the guest bed was where I had been throwing these books. I didnt even give it a moment of thought when moving time came. The new ones that just showed up along with my “collection” all went into the recycling bin.

After regaining my breath from the haul out, I reflected on the fact that I hadn’t opened any of them, ever! This fact was worth considering more, given I am am marketer, who at one time, made a living placing tiny Yellow Pages ads in target cities. Perhaps, more importantly, here I was new in town and had no need for The Phone Book!

In 2007, Search Engine Land did an exhaustive study that uncovered that searches for the yellow pages online were dropping while searches for Google maps were increasing. This would point towards a double challenge for Yellow Pages publishers. Not only is their print version soon to be a dinosaur. They waited so long to create online versions, they aren’t needed here either. Ouch!

But what does this all mean for businesses? While it is somewhat hard to find statistics that validate my prognostication. 15 years ago 100% of the population used The Yellow Pages. Today it is split even. 50% use the internet and 50% use the printed books. That’s a pretty steep decline in a relatively short period of time. If your business has always done well with the printed book, you probably need to stay in it. In fact I would recommend a smaller size in more categories. At the same time, you better be getting sharp at understanding the various ways someone might find you online as well as how social media will continue to reshape how people filter information in their lives.

It’s not a matter of if, but when the print book will make no sense any more at all. I am betting it will be sooner than later. I’m a bit biased though, because I have a fondness for trees and my expectations are such that there will be somewhat less strain on them when phone books do not exist at all, anywhere, anymore.