With the rise of local search sites, social media, and mobile directories, the physical Yellow Pages books delivered to consumers’ doors — long a staple of local marketing — are quickly becoming obsolete. According to data from the Local Search Association, total consumer references to print directories declined from 12 billion in 2009 to 7.4 billion in 2011, and have most likely declined even more since.
In a recent post on his blog, Mike Blumenthal mused about when directory companies might finally turn the corner and just stop printing the books, writing: “The print YP are no longer a local advertising medium catering to local business. It is clear that what is left of the print yellow pages has been taken over by regional and national advertisers. One has to wonder though if they ever bother to calculate their returns or they are doing this out of habit.”
Neg Norton, the president of the Local Search Association pointed to differences in local usage to partially account for the books’ existence: “We are seeing printed Yellow Pages usage decline as you would expect. … We see a much stronger use of directories in surburban and rural markets. You have different shopping habits in urban markets than in suburban and rural markets. It’s not an either/or issue; people tend to use whatever media is convenient for them to get information.”
But the trend lines all seem to be pointing in the same direction, so we asked a few folks from around the industry what date they might envision for the directories’ final print run. Their answers are below (and please add your own in the comments).
Phillip Stanger, Co-Founder and CEO, Wifarer
D-Day: Within 5 years
“The decline of the physical Yellow Pages will correspond to changing demographics (the decline of the baby boomer generation) and the shift of local advertising dollars to mobile. Through sheer force of habit, the physical Yellow Pages is where my parents and their friends go to find information about local services — they will never change. My friends and I go online either on our PC’s or, increasingly, our smartphones. It’s all about what you’re used to. I expect the last Yellow Pages book will be printed within five years, if hyperlocal mobile advertising takes off as predicted.”
Tim Judd, CEO, eLocal Listing
D-Day: December 31, 2015
“It’s hard to predict a clean cut-off date but I’d expect that by December 31, 2015 we will see many of the books gone, especially in larger DMAs. About a year ago I attended a BIA/Kelsey summit where this was discussed in depth by the Great and the Good of the industry — since they were discussing their own demise they took the question seriously and spoke from data. The consensus was that they had roughly four years to play with. I think the mobile explosion coupled with the continuing financial woes of the industry may accelerate that process with a good subset ending the madness sooner and there will certainly be a number of small market holdouts who may survive much longer.”
Damian Rollison, VP of Product, Universal Business Listing
D-Day: In 5 to 10 years
“Our view is that Yellow Pages books will really start to decline once we hit an inflection point where online directories can get the majority of their data from digital sources or straight from the business. That said, they are still the most popular source of local info among older demographics in rural areas, as shown in recent studies. For print, we see the big distribution model disappearing in less than five years and being replaced with niche regional publications that are higher quality and more content-rich. These types of directories will continue to be popular to both local advertisers and consumers for at least five to 10 years.”
Greg Sterling, Senior Analyst, Opus Research
D-Day: In 10 to 20 years
“Eventually most physical books will probably be discontinued. However it may take another 10 to 20 years (perhaps longer). Some communities in the U.S. and around the world still rely fairly heavily on print for various reasons. They tend to be smaller, more rural, and less urban places and communities. In urban environments, books may disappear much more quickly. Most publishers also still get the bulk of revenues from print. Print commands higher rates today than digital advertising. Digital ads also typically involve a third party fee or revenue share (e.g., Google AdWords or ads on third party display networks). Print books are more profitable in part because there’s no rev-share, though there are overhead costs (paper, printing services).”
Dave Elchoness, CEO, Tagwhat
D-Day: Within 5 to 7 years
“Within five to seven years. Last week, the Yellow Pages arrived at our home. I asked my kindergartener if he knew what Yellow Pages was and he had no idea. I haven’t used a paper Yellow Pages in years. As the population that relied on paper Yellow Pages in their youth declines, paper Yellow Pages will disappear. … Marketers age too. Pretty soon it’ll be difficult to sell the ads that sustain paper Yellow Pages. If the audience declines, so will ad revenue in the paper publication.”
When do you think that the last yellow pages book will be printed? Let us know in the comments.