Don’t Write that Obituary Just Yet…Print is Alive and Well!
Amy Rybczynski – Thursday, April 12, 2012
When I joined DAC Group’s research department six years ago, one of the tasks that landed on my desk was to track monthly the number of Yellow Pages directories in print in both the U.S. and Canada. I never gave the task much thought, but the figures recently have been hard to ignore. The U.S. is now at its lowest directory count in over seven years. North of the border, in the wake of Yellow Pages Group’s acquisition of their top competitor, CanPages, Canada’s directory count is nearly a hundred directories less than when we first began tracking in 2003, and more than 150 directories less than its peak over three years ago.
While this may sound like bad news for the industry, it’s not. The directory explosion that occurred during the second half of 2008 made Yellow Pages a bigger business than ever, but it also led to a lot of confusion for the folks who came home to half a dozen directories on their front step. Who could blame them for tossing the extras out or getting frustrated when the one they happened to grab didn’t have what they were looking for?
However, we know that people are still flocking to the Yellow Pages in droves. According to the most recent LSA Local Media Tracking Study, the top print heading, restaurants, still receives over one billion references annually. Sixteen other headings draw over 100 million references each. That’s a lot of shoppers who are ready to buy and actively searching for their product of choice. For many categories, particularly those involving home maintenance and improvement (i.e., pest control, plumbers, electricians, HVAC, appliance repair), DAC Group’s Search Landscape Study, in cooperation with Kantar Media, showed that print Yellow Pages ranked either first or second as the media that consumers reference first when shopping for a product or service. 
DAC Group’s Search Landscape Study also found that 53% of shoppers use search engines first when searching for business information to make a purchase. In fact, four of the top five sources are all online-based.  But the one that isn’t—ranked second overall—is none other than print Yellow Pages. How can this “archaic” method still rank high? Simple—it works.
Over the years, survival of the fittest has taken root, and a once-bloated industry has come back down to size. Many small publishers have either sold off their business or closed up shop altogether. In addition, the recession has weeded out weaker businesses and eliminated advertising budgets for others. The good news for advertisers is that there’s less fragmentation and the directories that remain are more useful than ever. All the top competitors are in one place and shoppers can easily find what they’re looking for. There’s less of a need to spend little bits of money in small directories just to maintain a presence. Instead, that money can be pooled for higher-impact ads in the strongest books in the market and even extended to online offerings.
In the face of negative media reports about the industry’s health, as well as legislation restricting automatic home delivery, it may be tempting to drop print Yellow Pages in favor of other media. However, it only takes a look back to one of the worst economic times in history to see why that could be a catastrophic mistake. During the Great Depression, many advertisers pulled back on their advertising, including cereal maker C.W. Post. At the same time, competitor Kellogg’s doubled their advertising budget. When everyone else was absent from the advertising landscape, Kellogg’s was there and consumers took notice. Kellogg’s profits increased by nearly 30% in the midst of the depression and set the foundation for dominance in their industry for decades to come.
The best news of all for DAC Group’s clients is that no matter which directional media you choose to promote your business, we have the tools to make your advertising successful. We can craft an integrated media plan that fits your needs and ensures that you will be where consumers are shopping. Maybe print Yellow Pages aren’t the right fit for your category, but if they are, rest assured that rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated and we’ll be happy to prove it.
-Amy Rybczynski, Marketing Research Analyst