The Demise of the Yellow Pages

It’s not a new story, but more and more regions are moving away from printing and delivering a telephone book to everyone, every year. In Canada, the list includes
Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa-Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec City, and Winnipeg, all of which will supply a telephone book only upon request. In many cases, one can probably expect that the editions to only be updated biannually, which makes sense when the distribution has suddenly dropped to 0.1% of what it was previously.

Blame the Internet — Navin R. Johnson will mourn its loss, but I’m not sure how far that mourning will extend beyond him. Think about it. When was the last time you used your phone book? With each new edition delivered to my door over the past few years, I asked why. Then I stuck it on a high shelf where it would sit for the next 12 months until it got replaced and recycled. Unless, of course, my kids needed to press leaves or something. It’s all online in a much easier-to-use format, so the dead-tree version arrives brand new and still looking like something from a bygone era. So much for the white pages.

But what of the Yellow Pages? I’ve been saying for years that Yellow Pages advertising was too expensive, and for the most part I think that remains the case. Still, for many years it was simply the price of admission to indicate you were a legitimate business. You needed a business card and a yellow pages ad, and that was it — you were legit. Nowadays, the Yellow Pages ad is becoming increasingly irrelevant, while it’s already been the case that for many businesses, a website was part of the price of admission instead.

I’m curious to see what the new value proposition looks like when they’re trying to sell an ad. So far, it looks like if you pay for an ad, you can also get these print specialists to do some a la carte online marketing for you… at a pretty scaled-up rate. I expect the publishers will attempt to prolong the distribution of the Yellow Pages wherever they are published separately in order to keep up revenue from advertising as long as possible, but how will they fare when it’s already abundantly clear that the white pages aren’t being utilized? This is the normal way things tend to play out when those with a vested interest can’t come to grips with the reality that it’s over.