Since I pride myself on not holding back my opinion, no matter how controversial, I’m just going to come out and say it: the phone book may have outlasted its usefulness. I know, I know, but before you get all huffy about how much you love selecting a business based on arbitrarily choosing a company with a sleek looking ad and a reliable sounding name, at least take a second to hear me out.
Yes, I too love the idea of conveniently being able to pull up a list of all the relevant businesses in a specific category. However, rather than just randomly browsing through a directory of names and settling on one that seems good enough, I’d prefer to have my results offered up with just a little more information than what the company chose to print in their ad. Imagine if you were somehow able to not only see all the plumbers in your area, but also simultaneously browse through reviews from some of their previous customers. That sort of information might be kind of helpful if you were trying to figure out who’s best suited to fix your perpetually clogged toilet.
Fortunately, if you’ve used a computer, a cell phone, or even have a single friend under the age of 50, chances are you’re well aware that the informational utopia I just laid out has already been happening for the past few years. The fact is, if you already know exactly what business you want to call, a quick search by name is considerably easier than pawing through a one-thousand-plus page tome. And, if you don’t know who you want to call, then scanning through pages and pages of variously sized ads is hardly the most effective way to narrow down your options. I’d say I can’t remember the last time I picked up a phone book if it wasn’t for the fact that I vaguely recall taking the freshly delivered plastic bag of phone books directly from the front door to the dumpster sometime in mid-July. The last time I actually opened one? Well, that’s another story.
Judging from a recent thread on reddit, it’s pretty obvious I’m not the only one who feels this way. Not only have phone books outlasted their usefulness from a consumer standpoint, but from a marketing standpoint they rank somewhere between burning money and just printing out millions of colorful pamphlets you never intend to pass out. People aren’t looking for your business in the phone book, they’re looking for your business online.
Unless you’re selling mechanical stairlifts to senior citizens, it’s hard to make a case for traditional phone book advertising (and that’s still making the assumption that your geriatric clientele doesn’t have a single relative who loves them enough to help out with a quick online search.)
Granted, there have to be some people who are still using phone books. I mean, I did see someone using a pay phone a couple weeks ago and it totally blew my mind that not only did that mean pay phones still exist, but this guy actually needed one. However, when I took an informal poll at my local coffee shop by asking if anyone had used a phone book in the past year, I was met with nothing more than a bunch of blank stares before everyone went back to working on their laptops and texting on their iPhones.
It should tell you something when the most recent data you can get on Yellow Pages usage is from 2007, and the media kit cited stat that “About 45 percent of adults turn to the print Yellow Pages each week” is based on average usage over the past 20 years. These stats hardly offer a compelling argument that print yellow pages haven’t already spiraled into obsolescence.
I’m curious to hear what other people think on this one. Does anyone have any clients that are still seeing decent results from the Yellow Pages? Or have phone books joined the ranks of VHS tapes as something that’s long outlasted its usefulness?
Basically, what I’m wondering is, are phone books just on their way out, or have they already died off completely?