Thursday, July 14, 2011

Whatever Happened to the Yellow Pages?

Whatever happened to the Yellow Pages?

In the old days, you had two phone books, and sometimes they were actually in one single "Phone Book" with a separate section called "The Yellow Pages."  Since deregulation of the phone industry, we now have Yellow Pages, The REAL Yellow Pages, The One Book, Yellowbook, whatever.  And now we get a phone book with blue pages (although these are getting scarcer and scarcer these days) as well as multiple copies of Yellow Pages.

And pretty much, all of them are worthless. Think about it. If you are reading this, you are on a computer, and when you want to look up a business, do you get out the Yellow pages, or search on Google?

When I was in college, by the way, I made some extra money delivering phone books.  You would load down your car until it sat on the spring stops, with phone books, and then deliver them to houses.   Some people did this every year.   One family made it a family affair, loading a pickup truck and a trailer with phone books, and the children would run from house to house delivering them.  Like with newspapers, there were different versions of the books (city and county) and oftentimes people would request one version or another or both.  And if it rained, well, that sucked, because many a homeowner would come home to a soggy mass of Papier Mâché and then call and demand a re-delivery.

Today, phone books are rarely delivered.   I think you have to order or request them now - delivery is not automatic.  Yellow pages are still delivered, as the companies that sell them are commercial and want to sell ad space - which you can't do if no one has a copy of the book.  But I suspect that physical copies of Yellow Pages will disappear soon.

You can download an "Internet Yellow Pages" for your kindle, but it costs $9.99  Gee, no thanks.

Frankly, I never use the physical yellow pages anymore - and rarely use the ones online.  They come across as a con-job, frankly, and oftentimes the company with the flashiest ad in the yellow pages is the one offering the worst sort of bargains.  And the yellow pages online often are hard to navigate or offer services for companies that are not even in my local area.  How is that helping?

And yet, many businesses pay staggering amounts of money to be in the Yellow Pages - oftentimes all the competing versions of them.  And Yellow Pages ads remind me of flashy websites - usually long on graphics and short on actual content.  The Attorneys section of any Yellow Pages is staggering - double full-pages ads in four colors for Personal Injury Attorneys.  Who makes the money in those cases, do you think?

Yea, sure, back in the day, it was the only business directory there was.  You needed a service or a part, you went to the Yellow Pages.   But even back then, however, you might ask your neighbor or friends for a recommendation or referral.  And today, not much has changed.    The Internet acts as a virtual Yellow Pages, and you can research online, companies and merchants, far more effectively than through a Yellow Pages listing.

The local Yellow Pages arrived today - a thin volume for our small town.   And I'll probably do what I always do - put it on a shelf in my office, throwing out last year's edition.  And I'll never look at it, until next year when I throw it out again.  Until, that is, they stop sending these to me.

And I suspect that won't be too far in the future.

UPDATE 2020:  The future has arrived.  The Yellow pages are dead - even online.