The Death of the Yellow Pages

Posted on October 30, 2012

RW Lynch Yellow PagesRW Lynch has, for decades, watched the trends in consumer directory trends. For years, The Yellow Pages served as the preferred directory for any American consumer who needed to contact a business or obtain a professional service. In today’s world, however, the Internet has grown in leaps and bounds and has subsequently changed the way in which consumers search for goods and services. Web-based outlets are quickly replacing more antiquated information sources, such as newspapers, landline telephones, and yes, even the yellow pages. More and more, consumers are choosing to let their fingers do the walking across their computer keyboard or mobile phone screen, rather than flipping through the cumbersome, canary-colored pages at the back of their local phonebooks. In fact, Google and Yahoo! now lead the yellow pages as the leading sources consumers use to search for local business information. Fewer than 25% of consumers between the ages of 35 and 44 consider the yellow pages their primary source for locating businesses, and even fewer in the 25 to 34 age demographic. Moreover, many individuals who continue to use the yellow pages report that they do so only to look up the phone number of a business with which they are already familiar.

Apart from the persuasive statistics, declining use of the yellow pages is also reflected in recent municipal ordinances designed to prohibit their unsolicited distribution. In early 2011, the San Francisco city council led a push to ban unsolicited delivery of the yellow pages in the city, which eventually passed by a vote of 9-1 among the city’s Board of Supervisors. The ordinance went into effect in May of 2011, making San Francisco the first city in the United States to ban unsolicited yellow page distribution.

Other U.S. cities have taken similar measures to curb the number of yellow pages books distributed in their municipalities. The Seattle City Council has continued to levy a 14 cent fee on every yellow pages book distributed, despite a federal lawsuit from directory parent companies Dex One, Yellow Pages Association, and Super Media, which contends that the ordinance violates their right to free speech. In addition, nearly 20 state public utility commissions have approved opt-out or opt-in policies for yellow pages and residential phone books. In response to the overwhelming community mobilization against the deliveries of these antiquated advertising tools, the Yellow Pages Association now allows consumers to opt out of some or all directory deliveries.

This trend in restricted yellow page distribution is likely to continue throughout the country, as consumer use of these bulky books declines in favor of more environmentally-friendly Internet-based information sources. The financial impact of consumer behavior change and bans on distribution is ominous: a recent report by Borrell Associates estimates that nearly 40% of the advertising spending on print yellow pages, or roughly $5 billion in revenue, will disappear over the next five years; bad news for the yellow pages publishing industry, which saw two of its largest publishers (R.H. Donnelley and Idearc) file for bankruptcy protection in recent years.

All of this is important information for law firms to consider when planning attorney marketing strategies. Research has consistently shown that consumers primarily use the Internet to research when seeking help with legal matters or looking for an attorney. Yet, many attorneys continue to advertise in the yellow pages, despite the fact that many firms admit there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of referrals from that source. With the increasing cost of yellow page advertising, the return on investment just isn’t there anymore. In the heyday of the yellow pages, law firms spent as much as 70% of their marketing budget on the yellow pages and similar paper-based directories. Marketing strategists once debated the most effective ad text, size, and page placement in an attempt to make their ad stand out among the scores of others that fought for the limited and coveted advertising space. However, now that consumer preference for online information sourcing is quickly becoming the norm, law firms should focus their efforts – and their marketing dollars – on a variety of web-based tactics to ensure a greater return on their marketing investment dollars.

To learn more about RW Lynch and our lead generation program, please contact us or call us at 1-800-594-8940.

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