When Will The Last Yellow Pages Book be Printed?

yellow_pagesWith 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).

1067d0ePhillip 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 JuddTim 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-sqDamian 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.”

sterling headshotGreg 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).”

301d480Dave 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.

  1. April 9, 2013

    As someone who has recruited for many of these publishers for over a decade, I have seen the rapid decline first hand. The “talent drain” has accelerated rapidly in recent years, publishers are having a difficult time hiring any “up and comers” as the younger demographic finds their print product unrelatable. Suburban and rural markets have a much longer runway though, with a minimum of 10+ more years of profitability possible.

  2. April 9, 2013

    Don’t forget that the demographic who still uses YP’s (i.e., old people) are better off financially than many many under 40’s. Otherwise, the YP’s would have been dead two years ago.

  3. April 9, 2013

    The way consumers engage with content has shifted dramatically from printed directories to digital outlets and YP (previously AT&T Interactive) is an example of a company who has actually done a really nice job of evolving its business model by transitioning to digital. In fact, the YP app was the first local search app developer to take advantage of the SinglePlatform API to quickly integrate a massive number of menus into local search apps for both smartphones and tablets in addition to online. As the market continues to evolve, it will become even more important for local business to be found online and on mobile devices.

  4. Wayne Mulling
    April 9, 2013

    I find it interesting that of all the people you asked this question of, you didn’t ask any of the local publishers of Yellow Pages. Wow! And this is supposed to be an impartial survey? Hmmm

  5. ed martin
    July 27, 2013

    anyone using printed directories
    loses money on the advt.
    i used the yellow pages for 10 years with positive results.Then losses starting about 2003.

    In 1995 a printer told me, that he was going digital(web), because print media would be dead in 10 years. He was right!!!!

    at the ny times in 1985 I wrote
    mgt reports predicting the decline of print media and rise of “online media” then that ment aol. NYT MGT forged
    ahead with big print media investments, and almost
    bankrupted the company.

    I have a computer & consulting support biz and mailing shop. yellow pages died 8 years ago. postal mailings 5 years
    ago. Since then I advise all my
    clients to use digital or other media.

  6. Casey Lewis
    January 24, 2014

    As a person who spent over 30 years in the YP business much of its demise is self inflicted. The older generation who ran all of the major print companies were in absolute denial in the late 90’s and early 20’s. As a result they neglected to react properly as they now scramble to retain what revenue they had enjoyed in their monopoly days. The most significant problem is that the product offerings they have in the digital arena are just not very good. They have tried to use 3rd party vendors and products to be able to enjoy the types of returns they have always enjoyed on the printed product. End result mass customer dissatisfaction, employee exodus, bankruptcy, acquisitions, etc. As these companies now try to transform into real digital/online marketing organizations the cultural shift may just prove to be too much. You have groups now who run these companies believing in some future IPO or other miracle get rich opportunity. Those days were gone with the poor decision by RH Donnelley to purchase Dex from Carlyle. That was akin to the Herschel Walker trade probably the biggest blunder in the history of Yellow Pages. Anyway, I think the YP print directories will continue to dwindle out of existence over the next 10 years and unless the now big 2 can figure out how to merge with the right company they may be toast within the next 5-7 years.

  7. Brian B French
    June 25, 2014

    The issue is not the last print date. The issue is the return vs. the cost. If usage of Yellow Pages has declined 40% in the last 10 years and the rate to advertise in the Yellow Pages hasn’t changed. You are pretty much crippled in business. Now you have to spend more money just to try to recoup the 40% lost.

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