As if there weren’t tough enough for yellow pages companies trying to compete in the 21st century. This past week provided a few more cuts.
In recent years, as its customers migrated to the Web — flocking to sites like Google — the telephone-directory business followed, hoping the Internet would be its salvation.
But that strategy hasn’t panned out. Now, the economic downturn is sending the already ailing business into a tailspin.
You can find a lively discussion of that article at this WSJ blog post.
The article included some numbers from media research and consulting firm, Borrell Associates, who projects:
Within the next four years, ad spending will fall 39% in print directories alone — the steepest projected decline across all local-media categories.
That makes me wonder how low spending has to drop before it’s no longer possible to print and distribute yellow pages. And how does the drop in spending effect the quality of the directories that are delivered? Do we reach a death-spiral moment?
Tracy Coenen weighed in on the WSJ article at the WalletPop Blog:
The fact remains that there is much more to be found about businesses on the Internet than a print or online phone directory can provide. I’d much rather use Google to find a business, knowing that I’m likely to find more than just the phone number and address. I’ll probably get a map to the business, a link to its site so I can find out more before calling, maybe some reviews of the company, and other bits of information on the company. Why would I ever go back to the yellow pages, either in hard copy or online?
And Carlo Longino riffs on the marginal online efforts to date from yellow pages companies over at TechDirt:
But their web sites have generally been miserable, especially when compared to the business directories created by internet companies. While some of the publishers are trying to beef up their online efforts, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to make up for their shriveling print revenues, meaning the Yellow Pages will soon be little more than memory.
Making matters worse, Law.com weighed in with some discouraging stats regarding one of the yellow page’s biggest advertising industries:
The Internet has eclipsed the Yellow Pages as the primary source consumers turn to when searching for an attorney. A 2007 survey by consumer research firm Ipsos, revealed that only 25 percent of consumers turn to the Yellow Pages when looking for an attorney, while 33 percent utilize the Internet.
The Communications Workers of America has launched a website where you can “Learn About Idearc Media’s Failed Leadership”:
As both workers and investors, we fear for our company.
While Idearc constantly touts the importance of its sales force – serving as the interface between the company and its 850,000 advertisers nation-wide – its actions contradict the fine words. About 700 CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members in New England and upstate New York have been working without a contract since June 2007. The company declared “impasse” in November and has imposed steep severe take-aways in all benefit programs – for instance, freezing our pension and restricting retiree health care – as well as job security and sales commission plans. This is no way to treat employees who are critical to the company’s future!
And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Idearc Media was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. The Dallas Morning News offers the following explanation for Idearc Media’s downfall (but no mention of people returning unwanted phone books to their offices):
The company, which was spun off from Verizon Communications in late 2006, has struggled to make the transition from print to Web. Although Idearc remains profitable, its sales have steadily fallen in recent quarters.
Of course, the yellow pages industry didn’t respond by saying, “yep, that’s where we are today, but we’re working hard to evolve ourselves back to relevancy.” Instead, the head of the Yellow Pages Association, Neg Norton, responded with a superlative-laden letter to the editor that illustrates how
The Yellow Pages industry has succeeded in migrating to multiplatform product offerings faster and more effectively than other market players. For the record, we didn’t follow anyone into the online world; Yellow Pages were online long before any search engine and now feed local engines a large bulk of the search data they provide to consumers.
YP industry consultant Ken Clark huffed and puffed about the WSJ article at his Yellow Pages Environmental Forum blog. I’m not sure how this particular article was relevant to that particular site. Perhaps Ken’s judgment was skewed by his anger about non-rosy reporting by the WSJ? Here’s one particularly interesting stat Mr. Clark trumpeted:
Both reporter and analyst ignore the research which shows that Yellow Pages offer an average sales ROI of 33:1 for national advertisers, and nearly 14:1 for local advertisers
Ken, my guess is that reporters and analysts ignore figures like that because they’re simply not believable.