Are the Yellow Pages Truly Dead?

Are the Yellow Pages Truly Dead?

Many people predicted that movie theaters would close right and left when VHS tape players started appearing in stores, but you know how that went. With 3D and IMAX, movie theaters are more popular than ever and buying a ticket to see one of the newest super hero films will cost you an arm and a leg. When digital book reading devices came out, experts were claiming that real books printed on paper were soon going to be obsolete, but that hasn’t happened either.

So, when I keep hearing that the Yellow Pages are dead and body shops aren’t using them anymore, I’m hesitant to jump on that bandwagon, at least for now. I’m not going to be one of the industry’s pallbearers until I know the facts and talk to some experts. So, I did my due diligence and polled advertising professionals and marketing gurus from different parts of the country. I even tried to talk to the people at the Yellow Pages, but after leaving multiple phone messages, they never called back. I gave them a chance to make their case, but they chose not to, which might tell you something right there.

Last month, the Yellow Pages landed on our porch and I promptly recycled the book again. This ancient directory is delivered to my house several times a year and it always ends up in the trash almost immediately. But honestly, am I the only one who does this? It seems like such a waste. Every time the new Yellow Pages arrive, I also notice that they’re smaller and smaller. Back in its heyday, the phone book was huge and big enough to use as a chair booster for my niece or act as an effective door jam. But, now my niece is grown up and the phone book does not weigh enough to keep any door open. At 1,200 to 1,500 pages, the phonebook was a big part of every American household as recently as 10–12 years ago, but the one that arrived the other day contained only about 500 pages.

Yes, the phonebooks are a little thinner, but the new ones get delivered every year like clockwork, so why is everybody declaring the demise of the Yellow Pages? Is it propaganda disseminated by Google, or is it actually true? Today with the Internet, cell phones and other smart devices, information about businesses and their phone numbers are so much easier to find. Back in the day, we had to rely on the Yellow Pages and hoist around a huge book while turning countless pages. Now with a couple clicks, we can get this information and a lot more within literally seconds. Plus, it’s a greener alternative because trees don’t have to die as a result.

I talked to an individual recently who has been selling ads for the Yellow Pages for the past 15 years and his mantra was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  He chose to remain anonymous. “Everyone is saying we’re going online and the actual phonebooks are archaic, but you should ask all my clients that,” he said. “My faithful Yellow Page advertisers who know how to use the medium are tracking great results. One reason is that many of their competitors have opted for other forms of advertising. So, they can now dominate their market.  People who are still willing to spend money and choose to market themselves to local businesses use the Yellow Pages and their numbers are keeping them in the book.”

Jim Schriver is a media consultant who works with small to medium-size companies in the San Diego, CA, area, advising them on emerging media and online marketing. Schriver says that the Yellow Pages are no longer effective for body shops and that’s why they’re opting out right and left.

“If you’re a landscaping company, a plumber or you clean pools, the old school phone books are probably a good fit for you, because believe it or not, people still refer to them for services such as these,” Schriver said. “Even small retail operations with 1–2 locations, such as florists, tuxedo rental companies and clothing stores will get some significant response from the Yellow Pages. But for body shops, I would say they’re not an ideal match. In a DRP-driven environment, the process for finding a body shop usually goes through an insurance company. It’s rare that someone would go to the Yellow Pages to find a shop, because their insurer has already provided a list of their preferred shops. The money that a collision repairer is spending on the Yellow Pages can be spent much better elsewhere, such as online advertising, outdoor advertising and/or broadcast. The overall goal is to get your name out there, so that when the potential customer gets in an accident, they remember your name—it’s basic branding. But the Yellow Pages don’t achieve that and that’s why I tell body shop owners to stay away.”

Larry Sawyer owns Da Bomb Media in Phoenix, AZ, a company that helps companies on web site development, SEO and social media. Sawyer is advising all of his clients to bail out of the Yellow Pages yesterday, if possible. “One of my clients was spending $1,300 every month on the Yellow Pages and back in the 1980s it got him a ton of business,” Sawyer explained. “But now, it’s a waste of money, because people are relying on the Internet. The Yellow Pages tried to develop an online entity, but it was too late and Google has already claimed that spot. So, I took my customer’s $1,300 and invested it in a lot of online advertising programs, offered by Yelp, Google, Facebook and other forms of social media. As a result, they’re getting some amazing results and that $1,300 is going a long way. I can’t say that the Yellow Pages are dead, but they sure are limping along!”

David DeClue owns a marketing company called Tah Dah! in Muncie, Indiana. Even though most of his clients can’t be considered technically savvy, they still know that the Yellow Pages are experiencing their final days.

“Sure, some companies are still hanging on to the old days and advertising in the Yellow Pages, but most of them are getting out and embracing other forms of print advertising,” DeClue said. “The phone carriers are getting out of the directory business, which is a bad sign. In 2002, usage of the Yellow Pages was around 15 billion impressions and now it’s been cut in half. Idearc, the company spun off when Verizon divested itself of its Yellow Pages division when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, along with R.H. Donnelley and Ambassador Media Group the same year. So, to answer your question—the Yellow Pages are still alive, but just barely.”

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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