We’ve written before on how media and blog coverage of Yellow Pages can’t seem to find a fair balance between Pollyanna and Chicken Little. OK, in fairness, there aren’t many Pollyannas writing that Yellow Pages is shipshape with not a worry in the world. But there is no shortage of Chicken Littles declaring that the sky is falling for Yellow Pages. The phone book, we are led to believe, is in its final days.
The latest example is The Wall Street Journal, a respected publication, which published an article this morning with the headline, “Extinction Threatens Yellow-Pages Publishers.” The article isn’t quite as overwrought as its headline, but it essentially argues that the medium’s print business is dying fast and the Internet thing isn’t working out very well.
There are certainly some dubious assertions in the article, such as that Internet Yellow Pages traffic is declining, which seems to be contradicted by a graphic in the article showing IYPs growing faster than comparable pure plays. But the big issue is with the use of the word “extinction” in the headline. This adds to the tone of coverage that tends to be absolutist about Yellow Pages. As in, Yellow Pages are absolutely toast. Maybe they just don’t know it yet.
We have consistently argued that the truth is far more nuanced. Yes, print revenues are declining, due to a mixture of secular and cyclical forces, with the sharp economic downturn putting an emphasis on the cyclical component. And yes Internet revenues, in the U.S. at least, are not yet sufficient to offset these declines. However, Yellow Pages remains a critical source of calls and leads in many categories, and it seems unlikely that small-business advertisers will soon be able to replace these leads with another source, at least not easily or efficiently.
While sometimes it may seem that no one is willing to admit it, lots of people still use Yellow Pages. It’s sort of become like admitting you like ABBA.
And as far as the Internet goes, it is too early to count out the Yellow Pages. The sales channel, while it can be unwieldy, remains a force to be reckoned with, as Google and others still struggle to figure out how to penetrate more deeply into the small-business market.
What vexes the Yellow Pages industry is how to break free of the public relations death spiral it finds itself in right now. Much if not most of what is written is overstated, if not inaccurate. Though it all builds around a kernel of truth, which is that Yellow Pages, along with all other traditional media, is having a rough go of it. It seems, however, that this medium is getting singled out as being worse off than newspapers, magazines, radio and so on, and that really isn’t true.