Photo by Alan Wyman of Lonely Northrop Auditorium Phonebooks at the U of MN
My phone book industry friend, Ken Clark, tries to educate people – via the web – about how valuable print phone books are. See the irony in that? People have to be explained, via the web, that the books left at their door are valuable. Books they’ve received at their door at least once a year over their lifespans.
While Ken still thinks print yellow pages are valuable – or at least wants phone book advertisers to believe they’re valuable – his own industry is starting to turn against him.
A report from the Kelsey Group predicts that yellow pages companies are going to begin killing their print editions in exchange for a pure web models:
The Online-Only Yellow Pages Publisher? For some time The Kelsey Group has been predicting that an existing print directory publisher would divest all or much of its print operations and transform itself into an online-only business with an established sales force and brand. This hasn’t happened yet, but Kelsey analysts believe the prospects of it occurring in the next 12 to 18 months are reasonably good. However, some willing sellers may have trouble finding willing buyers. What to watch for in 2009: Look for organizations that are structured to enable a clean separation of the print operation. Also look for organizations that are clearly disinvesting in print by shifting all or most marketing and product development funding and energy to the online product.
Local business advertising has been relatively slow to move to the web, making the transition for phone book companies, newspapers, and other paper based businesses a challenge. However, YP companies are starting to figure this stuff out. Having an established sales force with business relationships in local markets puts them in a great position if they can figure out how to build online advertising models that will work for local businesses.
Somehow, I think embracing the future that exists today is a safer bet than betting on print directory spam long term. Predicting when Ken will get this is probably tougher than betting that print YP’s will eventually abandon print for the web.