Print Yellow Page’s Basement Full of Water Scenario

Print Yellow Pages industry insiders love to justify the need for heavy, alphabetically sorted, printed directories of limited local business information based on one plumbing problem: who to call when your basement is filling with water.

Here are a few examples:

YP Printvangelist Ken Clark cites a quote from Canada’s CanPages CEO that Clark says “sets the record straight”:

“The Internet is not the be all and end all of local searches,” proclaims Olivier Vincent, president and CEO of Burnaby-based Canpages Inc.,…….When the basement is full of water, he points out, you’re not going to boot up the computer; you probably won’t even find Joe the plumber online.

In a comment on Kelsey Group’s blog:

Bill Gates probably has 2 plumbers on staff at his mansion. The good news for our industry is that there are very Bill Gates and all 20 years olds will become 30 and 40 and 50. All the sudden, life is not about reading reviews on the latest restaurants but more mundane things like: getting rid of that family of raccoons in the attic, fixing that sink hole in the driveway, why is there 2 inches of water in my basement… The better news is that 20 year olds are great at finding out the best sources of information and telling each other about it. All the sudden, they will remember their parents mentioning something about “yellowpages” or “yellowbook” or something yellow, and they will go to Google and type in “yellowpages”.

On Broadband Evolved, where Idearc Media’s Andrew Shane cheerleaded the post containing this snippet:

Advertising in the Yellow Pages: Should SMBs Fish or Cut Bait? | Broadband Evolved

Indeed, there is still significant value in yellow pages advertising, especially for certain types of businesses, like plumbing contractors, where consumer needs tend to be immediate and highly local. Recall what you were thinking the last time you had water in your basement? “I need a local plumber right %$#&! now!”

And a guy named Doug who commented on a previous post here (there are more examples from YP peeps in the comments on this blog if you can’t get enough of this stuff):

If you want to write another article, why not call 100 people at random and ask them “if your pipe burst right now, who will you call and how will you get the number?”.

As I looked into this, I found what I believe is the origination of this recycled antiquated justification for keeping a yellow pages directory around the house. It appears to come from a 2004 book called Media Selling by Charles Warner and Joseph Buchman. Here is the original quote courtesy of Google Books:

Yellow Pages Water in Basement Scenario

So the print yellow pages industry is relying on a YP red meat line from a five year old book to justify why people are stupid to not use print yellow pages in 2009.

I recorded my own take on this on Sunday:

Perhaps I’m wrong? Maybe yellow pages really are the best answer to flooded basement problems. Personally, I’ve had water in my basement and easily solved the problem in my own post-print-YP world, but I may be an outlier. Here are a couple examples of people who’ve written about their flooded basement scenarios:

This person turned to the print Yellow Pages for help:

Unlikely Words » Apres (something), le deluge

We called everyone in the Yellow Pages under “flood” and got pretty much the same answer from each. “Hello? Yes, our basement is flooded.”

“Yeeeah. No kidding.” (Apparently we were not alone.)

And another person who’s wife turned to the Yellow Pages to address an emergency basement flooding issue:

So now the real fun begins. What do we do first? My wife grabbed the phone book and began flipping through the Yellow Pages to find a plumber. After about three calls ending in voicemail, she finally was able to talk to a live person. After telling him about our problem as quickly as she could, he said “it’s an appliance issue, I can’t help you.” Lovely.

My unsolicited advice to the yellow pages industry: Consider updating your scenarios on why yellow pages are valuable less than every five years.

14 thoughts on “Print Yellow Page’s Basement Full of Water Scenario”

  1. The correct (if not smug,) answer is that you already have a plumber in your household notebook, phone, or on the fridge. It’s someone you’ve worked with before, or has been recommended to you by family and friends.

    Also – every house has a master shutoff valve. Unless you have an actual river flooding its banks into your basement you can shut the water off, sop it up, and deal with it the next day. If some source of water, mud, or lava is flowing non-stop into your house there’s not much a plumber can do anyway.

    If I HAD to call a serviceperson Saturday night at 9pm – and my computer was underwater and all that remained was a Yellow Pages floating on a TV tray – well I would at least use my iPhone to Google the plumber, and scan the positive and negative reviews. I’ve said a very important if overlooked factor in the YP vs internet discussion is company reviews – especially in the area of home service.

    The physical YP won’t tell me if said plumber has a truckload of negative reviews, rips people off, or has a bad rating with the BBB. A person adept at reading online reveiws, (i.e. skipping the self promotion and weeding out the high maintanence never satisfied clients,) can use that to HELP them make a qualifed assessment of their potential serviceperson.

    I just had hardwood floors installed in my upstairs townhome. Not once did I even consider a phone book. I got names from my neighbor and co-worker, and each one gave me an estimate for the work. My neighbor saw his work, and asked for his card for a future re-finishing project. And so on.. Unless you’re anti-social and have no friends word of mouth far outweighs YP, and, yes I’ll say it, even the internet.

  2. i think it’s funny that all yellow page companies are utilizing quotes from outdated material! they are struggling to find validation for their declining hold on the advertising circuit.

    james, james, james – word of mouth has ALWAYS been the best way to locate a potential business. however, you can still get ripped off by a referral. any good consumer knows to check out the business he or she is contemplating signing a contract with. regardless of where they found them!

    the yellow pages is an option. we get it for free as consumers. well, you may or may not keep the one that is aligned to your phone bill, the rest just trash or hey…it’s the 21st century…try recycling!

  3. Damn I just typed a response and closed the window..

    Thanks for the mention. I guess I meant call some people and ask them what and where they would find a number of they needed it. I do not have a horse in the yellowpages race , so i do not care.

    You, with some others, are the pinnacle of a mountain asking for change. Unfortunately their is no way to drag the other hundreds of million of people below you into the 21st century. Maybe the prez will put an iphone in every pot.

    There is no answer. A savvy business owner should use CMS, call numbers, to monitor his ads usefulness. If those calls drop to zero. he won’t spend any money and the print book goes away. As logn as that number rings, books will be printed.

    BTW, here we have little local books and every business in the book is local with full color big ads. They are about 80 pages and handy. I personally have no use for those giant brick books like you received (why would i want to see ads for business on the other side of town in a huge city). But, again, millions behind you and me do.

    Just for my .02, google won’t kill yellowpages, they dont have the right business model, but facebook or something like it will. So to the point of your article, if the age old basement flood happened to me I would post on facebook, “who has a favorite plumber quick I’m drowning and my master shut off is underwater, and the big f%^$ YB is covering the drain”

  4. Gosh! I am from Colorado one of the greenest states on the planet and one obvious thing your blog fails to focus on is that of consumer demographics. Fact of the matter is there are several age groups who prefer using the printed directories, printed books, printed magazines because they PREFER the familiarity with the format and ease of use. Yes, there will most likely come a time over the next decade when technology has progressed whereby consumers will use epaper and other such futuristic technology to receive and search for relevant content.

    Additionally, if you do conduct further research on the media segment as a whole they have diversified their product lines with print, internet and even wireless to make sure consumers get content the way they want when they want it. There is so much to the green movement and to single out the media segment, yellow pages specifically is narrow minded.

    I’ve been a recycler, been part of tree planting sessions and lived in a “green community” for nearly 20 years. Your head is in the clouds to think people don’t treasure their publications even in ultra-green communities where clothing is made of recycled goods and has the highest per capita of Smart cars in the nation!

  5. The Yellowbook thugs broke into my apartment building today and left a two-pound plastic wrapped paper turd outside each apartment.

    For the life of me I don’t know why my landlord can’t prosecute them for trespassing. Half the tenants don’t even have a land line.

  6. Come to think of it, a five year old phone book is just the thing to use when you need a plumber. That way, you will get a plumber who has been in business for at least five years.

  7. Ed,

    We recently had to replace our Hot Water tank. It was leaking. We got the name of a plumber from a friend (personal referral), I then looked the number up on Google which displayed the number in 0.33 seconds.

    Plumber recommended from a trusted source and contact details from Google.

    If you have water in your basement isn’t one of the first things you do to find out what the problem is and shut off the water. Then grab a mop or wet vac and clean up. I’ve never met anyone that would be totally helpless and grab the YP for comfort and a solution. Many of us would tackle as much as we can ourselves, assess the situation and make the call.

  8. I don’t understand why all this bothers you so much? Have you ever heard of a media mix? Businesses use a variety of advertising platforms to attract customers. On a local basis, very few businesses rely on only one medium. I remember when videos, DVD’s, pay-per-view, etc. were going to put movie theaters out of business. Well, they are busier than ever. Old habits are hard to break. Humans are creatures of habit. There is a comfort level that folks do not want to let go of. All traditional media (TV, Radio, Newspaper, Magazines, Billboards, Direct Mail) have diminished results compared to years ago. Media today is so fragmented. Consumers have many more choices than ever before. That has contributed to decreased usage of the print Yellow Pages (including all traditional media) more than anything else. A a matter of fact, whatever usage has been lost by the print yellow pages has been replaced by the on-line yellow pages owned by the same publishers. Why? People know the Yellow Pages and when they are on-line they naturally are comfortable with trying the on-line version. These yellow page publishers have also been selling web sites and pay-per-click for years. They offer bundling to their clients that bring the advertiser a complete suite of products at a reasonable price. In my opinion, the worst thing that ever happened to the yellow pages was the fact that all these bogus impersonators (like Yellowbook) started flooding people with books. The utility company publishers (in other words the legitimate phone directories) were unintended victims of people’s frustration with all the waste. If folks just received one phone book, from the phone company (the most comprehensive one anyway) there would not be as much of a backlash. It is the only one that has the most thorough distribution because the telephone companies are governed by the PSC (Public Service Commission). They have to do a good job by law. The reason that al these other books are out there…get ready for this…..is because the yellow pages as a medium work! They have a certain amount of usage! That is why so many companies want to get into the yellow page business. They want to try to snare some of the usage that the Yellow Pages owns. By the way, consumers use the Yellow Pages for much more than just plumbers. Your view of the span of usage is quite myopic. The attorney headings, all the physician headings, Air Conditioning/Heating, Adoption, Accountants, Tailors, Spas, etc. It goes on and on and on. The bottom line? Don’t worry about the Yellow Pages. If they bring the business they will survive; if they don’t, they won’t. The Yellow Pages are a part of Americana. The original Search Engine!

  9. Jim, it is very simple why it bothers us so much–unlike you, WE DERIVE ZERO VALUE, nay, WE DERIVE NEGATIVE VALUE FOR ANY YP.

    Jim, wouldn’t that bother you to receive something 3 times per year that you did not ask for, in fact you specifically asked NOT TO GET? In what world does that not bother you?

    Stop thinking with your one-way mind. Who gives a damn about ‘media mix’ in your neighborhood? YP is not on TV or radio where a click of a button gets rid of the problem. YP is not TV or radio where the ad comes on waves in the air, instead it comes with an environmental footprint. Wake up!

  10. @Jim, I agree that businesses benefit from a media mix. Especially a media mix that reaches people who are receptive to marketing messages in that form. Perhaps we can agree that the yellow pages industry’s advertisers are poorly served by companies that deliver books to people who’ve proactively unsubscribed from a form of advertising they no longer find valuable?

    The YP industry would be in better shape today than it is if your statement about shifting from print YP to online YP were accurate. Sure, it’s happened to some degree, but online ad dollars are not replacing print ad dollars at anywhere close to a 1:1 rate. Most business related queries online happen outside of YP sites. For example, Yelp.com dwarfs yellowbook.com.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the legal requirements of phone book deliveries are tied to WHITE pages, not yellow pages.

    I’m not disputing that yellow pages work. But help me out with this: Who benefits from the distribution of yellow pages to foreclosures (and other vacant properties) and homes that have unsubscribed from the print spam?

    I could care less which brand of yellow pages spam was the incumbent. They’re equally worthless and wasteful to me.

    You’re giving yellow pages too much credit while discounting the value of yellow pages at the same time in your last statement. The original search engine was word of mouth. And reminiscent justifications for “the original” does nothing to help justify why people would choose to use them once they’re accustomed to more efficient options.

  11. If my basement is full of water, the yellow pages wouldn’t do me any good, cause they’re in a corner on the basement floor. Now waterproof yellow pages, I’d opt in for those.

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