We don’t know if this is true. It is, after all, being reported as a “rumor.” However, this isn’t the most implausible rumor we’ve heard. Balmer may well be itching to do a deal in the wake of Microsoft’s failure to buy Yahoo!. Plus there has always been at least a superficial logic to a tech company acquiring a directory company, namely to acquire its sizable local sales channel. Yell is the largest publisher in the U.K. and through its Yellowbook unit, the No. 4 player in the United States, with a sales force of more than 5,000 reps, even after a recent sales channel downsizing.
It’s worth remembering that just a few years back, Google was widely said to be checking out Yell as a possible acquisition target. This was topic A for discussion at our Directory Driven Commerce event in 2005. Yellowbook CEO Joe Walsh was a keynoter at that event, and he endorsed the concept of a search engine buying a directory company without directly addressing the rumor. As Walsh put it, the assets directory publishers bring to the table would “complete” a search engine, in a Tom Cruise-Renee Zellweger kind of way. Still, the deal never materialized.
One big difference between then and now is the price tag on Yell. Back in late September 2005 when the Google-Yell rumor was floating around, Yell was trading at about 483 pence. Today, the stock was at 128.25.