How Fast is the Digital Horse?
Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak to a number of publishers of all sizes to get a sense of their perspective on this important issue. My take is that Yellow Pages executives believe there will be a major movement over the next two years. Is this a case of irrational exuberance, especially when the competition is as technically savvy as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL? For instance, YPA President Neg Norton reports that usage of the print product remains essentially flat for the first half of 2005 vs. the same period in 2004. Similarly, overall Yellow Pages revenues are up slightly, tracing to price-ups, strong independent growth and the success of companion directories.
Reinforcing this is the fact that consumers find local products and services in whatever fashion is the easiest and quickest. As good as local search is, users have to be at a terminal and know how to find what they are looking for. For the most part, mobile phones and PDAs have not yet caught on. Importantly, advertisers are used to buying Yellow Pages ads, and they don't want to lose their position in a directory.
For nearly 20 years, The Kelsey Group has been focused on the impact of new technologies on directories and other publishers. Without exception, every traditional media is facing unexpected challenges right now. Yellow Pages publishers are well positioned to continue to be the primary source of bringing local buyers and sellers together. Internet Yellow Pages and local search are improving weekly and are increasingly valuable tools. There is no question that they will begin to take advertiser dollars away from print, but don't look for this to happen overnight.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Enjoyed the post. My terminal is on my lap as I read this. I think this horse is running pretty fast.
The future is always more complicated than both the doomsayers and the optimists predict. Inertia, fragmentation and complexity now keep many local advertisers away from online. Print YP revenues will likely hold for some time, especially as publishers add new services/products (e.g., online marketing) to their existing mix. (One should also not underestimate the power of inertia.)
Over the long term, however, current usage levels will not hold (in the absence of radical product innovation). The anecdotal and empirical information argues too forcefully against it. It is a question of time. Broadband took ten years to arrive, but now that it has its impact is starting to be felt.
The future, however, will not likely be a zero-sum substitution of online for print. What is perhaps more likely is segmentation of the audience and a general diminution of print's status from the primary vehicle for local to a more limited tool that is perceived as useful in certain situations but not in others. The great risk is that print YP will become a second-choice medium when the Internet is not available.
That rather gray scenario need not be a foregone conclusion. Significant print product innovation, intelligent online and mobile product development and aggressive marketing and distribution can make the holistic (read multi-platform) notion of Yellow Pages competitive into the future.