The State of the Yellow Pages Print Industry

    February 4, 2011

I have been pretty harsh on the Yellow Pages in the past. Most of my trouble comes from the fact that the medium just isn’t as effective across all verticals as it once was. That’s not to say that it’s not effective at all, because that is untrue. In some areas, it can work well–like plumbing, HVAC and other emergency situations. Of course, by the time you locate the book you probably could have done the search on your computer or smart phone just as quickly, but who’s counting?

Well, if there was ever a white flag of truce thrown up by an industry under fire, it is this one: the Yellow Pages industry has created an opt out of delivery site at Here is the home page:

National Yelloe Pages Opt Out.jpg

There is a Canadian version as well, but the message there is not as glaring as the US site. Check it out here.

This move means several things regarding the state of the Yellow Pages print industry.

1. The industry is feeling pressure. If you have driven past or even dropped off Yellow Page books at the special dumpsters for them, there is a clear message that these directories are simply not wanted. Now YP groups will say those are just the old, out-dated versions being recycled, but I know I have thrown current versions in there just to get them out of the way from wherever they landed in my house (usually the garage).

These dumpsters are due to pressure from environmental groups and from people who simply don’t want the delivery to begin with. In other words, it’s better for the YP industry to police itself or have more situations like the one in Seattle, which levied a 14-cent fee per book delivered by Yellow Pages distributors.

2. The industry is changing. It wasn’t too long ago that an action like an Opt Out of the Yellow Pages delivery Web site would have been seen as an act of heresy. I suspect that there has been a realization that taking certain actions will be seen as positive moves to keep any wolves at bay, so rather than circle the wagons the YP industry will play the game.

3. The industry suspects that impact will be nominal. I don’t know how this site is being promoted, but I doubt there is much effort by the YP folks to draw a lot of attention to it. Personally, I tweeted it so my Twitter followers would be made aware. I suspect that the YP industry knows that beyond the highly technical crowd, the masses will likely never know this exists. Perhaps they are banking on that.

4. The industry is rattled. To sum up these points, it looks as if the Yellow Page industry is back on its heels. Bankruptcies (RH Donnelly) and overall trashing of the medium for sales tactics, coupled with an antiquated perception by consumers and marketers alike has the industry on the ropes. They need to look like they care about moving forward and adjusting to the new digital world order.

5. The industry needs to concentrate online. The online Yellow Pages are also struggling because Google has taken away some of their search bread and butter. Google’s changes in how the SERPs render local search results (the heart of any YP offering) has moved online directories down the pecking order of what is considered a good result for a searcher looking for services.

Of course, there are cries of foul play by Google (and maybe Bing, too, since they copy Google’s results!) but the fact of the matter is, that as a searcher myself, I hate being directed by Google to another directory that I have to maneuver through. That’s a bad search result. I want actual businesses that do something rather than a third party aggregator’s version, loaded with their advertising.

In the end, this move by the Yellow Pages industry is one that needs to be watched. We live in a world where the appearance of "taking care of business" is easy to create. Many of these kinds of efforts are by industries merely looking to avoid lawsuits—what I call "Wizard of Oz moves." "What’s that?" you ask? It’s simply creating something that looks like a huge gesture but when you pull back the curtain there’s more "show than go." In this case, I bet that the industry is making this look like a grand gesture and the hope is that no real large number of people will act on it.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where this kind of thing can be passed off as real action and the result is the ability of the Yellow Page industry to say "Look we are doing our part!" when they know full well that most people won’t even know the option exists.

Welcome to online America, home of the shallow. Where people can look like they are concerned and give any appearance they need to get by. Sorry for the cynicism but can you blame me?

Your thoughts on the subject?

Originally published at Biznology