Let Your Fingers Do The Walking….To The Recycling Bin

A few years ago, a focus group was held to study the viability of  The Yellow Pages — the ubiquitous gigantic directories of local businesses which still gets dropped off  on our doorsteps every year.

The leader of the focus group asked participants a key question: how often did they use the Yellow Pages in the last year? Most said once a year.

A man in the study group tentatively put up his hand and asked what they meant by “usage”.  The participant went on to explain: “There are times when my cousin’s baby comes over and she needs something to sit on.”

I wouldn’t be much of a blogger on the telephony industry if I didn’t write about changing trends in the  industry — and one of the biggest examples of a necessity-turned-anachronism is The Yellow Pages.

The Yellow Pages started in 1883, when a Cheyenne, Wyoming printer saddled with the job of printing off one of the first rudimentary telephone directories ran out of white paper and swapped in yellow paper on a whim. The Yellow Pages soon had a stronghold in the arena of print advertising and was, at one time (pardon the pun) the Gold Standard when it came to making your business visible and findable to a local market. As Chris Silver Smith in his blog article “Is Yellow Pages Becoming An Obsolete Concept?” aptly puts it:  “In the ‘Business 1.0′ world, the Yellow Pages label was so deeply established that it could bring companies an instantaneous degree of success. In the ‘Business 2.0′ world, the name isn’t as relevant nor as compelling to consumers as is the combination of content and utility. Companies ignoring the trends will risk making themselves be perceived as dated.”

The internet happened. It happened to everybody. And while some might point to the Yellow Pages adapting beautifully to the online world, the stats say differently.

Halt The Presses

Since 2007, many US states have quit printing residential listings and many more have pending requests to do so: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Yellow pages may not be far behind.

Hold The Phone

Traditional Land lines are being disconnected at a rate of nearly 10% a year. The connectivity we have away from home — and the ability to do instantaneous searches of business and their contact information, maps to their locations, their rates, find product pictures, and read reviews — wherever we are — makes the housebound landline go the way of the buggy whip — and as for those yellow directories we used to keep on hand to find a dance school, hairdresser, taxidermist? Rapidly becoming useless, unless we’re propping up babies with them.

Some Industries Are Already Yellow  Phobic — and Some Are Not

Would you haul the yellow behemoth out and look for a travel agent? Caterer? Lawyer? The travel industry, in particular, has become so completely turnkey — with travel deals as close a typing in “Trip Advisor” or “Priceline” into a browser — almost making the travel agent in and of themselves relatively redundant; let alone an unwieldy and awkward guide which lists only the travel agents in your area and just their contact information — and that’s it. In the time it used to take to look up an agent in the Yellow Pages, you can have y0ur trip booked and the itinerary printed off — and your plane ticket will be at a price that required no “inside knowledge” of an agent to secure. Some industries, however, still have a strong presence in the phonebook — plumbers and contractors are good examples. If you are looking to renovate your bathroom, for example, it can be difficult sourcing a comprehensive selection of candidates online in your local area to do it. There still isn’t enough local content to provide consumers with the same shopping experience as what the online travel industry offers, for example.

In March of last year, Yellow Pages Group in Canada rebranded with a new logo, which foists the “book” right out of the picture, hoping to associate the ubiquitous walking fingers and a blobby, mouse-pad/mouse-shaped outline — in an attempt to signal that the product is now multi-platform. (Ignoring the persnickety but true fact that our fingers don’t do that “motion” when searching for something online. Our fingers look like that when we’re pointing our fingers downward on printed material. It would be a less aesthetically pleasing logo — but more accurate — if they’d designed the “chicken claw”-like look of hand grasping a mouse. But I’m getting off track. ) Getting customers to think of Internet Yellow Pages (or “IYP” as it’s known in the industry) is no easy sell. Google, Google Maps, Bing, Yelp (which — undeniably — is a clever acronym of “Yellow Pages” without any of that messy yellow print stigma attached to it..); nearly any other online search engine outramps the online versions of Yellow Pages, be they Superpages, Dex, or Yellowpages online. Your first instinct will be to enter your term into Google if you need to send a bouquet from your small hometown in Rhode Island to a client in New Mexico — you’re just not going to use your local Yellow Pages online directory to find a nearby florist who *might* coordinate the delivery…or a florist on their end. You’re going to find an instantaneous listing of those florists who deliver all the time anywhere — with photos, prices, and a payment portal, so you can have the whole thing taken care of in a matter of a couple of minutes.

I have a great personal attachment to the Yellow Pages — a dear cousin of mine proudly sold ad space in the Alberta Government Telephones Yellow Book for most of her working life; I acquired a vintage pink rotary dial phone from my Aunt’s estate — and one of the most endearing features of the phone is the vintage AGT Yellow Pages Sticker on the handset; I also voice an auto-dialer for Yellow Pages yearly, which calls virtually every home in America, asking if the household received their Phone Books; enquiring sweetly if they’d like to have more delivered.

Like the pagers that most of us wore with great gusto on our waistbands in 80’s, the Yellow Pages served their purpose well and brilliantly when they were the ultimate mode of linking people together. I dutifully stack the current year’s books in the corner of my office, but can’t foresee a time in the near future — as most people can’t — when I’ll actually turn to them.

Next week, I’ll address the question: “Why Have a Pro Do It?” when it comes to your IVR voicing; the economy’s recovering, but people are still cost-conscious and wondering why they’d need to hire an over-priced voice talent to voice their phone system. Caitlyn’s right there at the front desk — let’s get her to do it! Next week, I’ll explain why “Caitlyn” may not be your best choice….

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

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4 Comments »

  1. I remember the last time I used a phone book. It was the day I was moving out of one house–where I had only dialup internet–and into a house with what was “broadband” at that time. An ISDN line at 128k, but that was fast and always-on. I used the book to call for a pizza, and from then on these books have always gone directly from the porch to the recycling bin. That was around 1998.

    This topic is timely though as I’ve recently had discussions with a few customers about their listings in the phone book, and that led to their own use of phone books. Our service customers–plumbers, contractors, etc–insist on being listed. The rest don’t care. Predictably enough, our older customers still say they use the book every now and then, but the younger ones looked at me like I was from another planet when I asked such a silly question.

    We recently had an odd use of the phone book come up. One of our customers has to have each their 100-some locations listed, because that’s the only way they can “prove” to their bank and credit card processor that they are legitimate. Of course, we just enter whatever info they give us and make them appear listed, so it has no real value, but the bank is happy.

    • voicegal Said:

      Carlos —

      Yes, I recently had a payment portal set up, and the requirements to prove you’re “legitimate” are lengthy.

      I’d forgotten you’re in the “directory” business yourself! I should have consulted you. Ah — it’s only a matter of time before I interview you for my blog!

  2. Carly13 Said:

    It’s true, the internet changed the game for loads of businesses. Now with the advent of enterprise ip telephony, traditional phone companies are scrambling around trying to figure out their next move. It will be interesting to see where the internet takes us next.
    Carly S.

    • voicegal Said:

      It occured to me that my step daughter (now 18) knows no other way — her Dad and I were fretting, trying to get to Ikea before it closed, and she calmly announced from the back seat and via the light of her iPhone: “They don’t close until 6. And they’re open late tomorrow night until 9.” She likely wouldn’t know how to use the big, clunky paper directories delivered every year — and why would she?


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