New U.K. Research on Directory Usage Fans Opt-Out Chatter

A new study in the United Kingdom, commissioned by welovelocal.com, a U.K.-based online local site competing against directory publishers, has found that 35 percent of British consumers no longer want to receive print directories, and choose the Internet to look up local information or use word of mouth. That’s a substantial figure. On the other hand, 58 percent of British consumers welcome the delivery of print directories to their homes, which is hardly an argument that print directories are no longer viable. When segmenting younger consumers (18-34) the figure is 43 percent preferring not to receive a print book at home.

The survey was conducted online in January with a sample of 1,974 adults.

The press release detailing the study findings also says, “32 percent of the British public have not used a printed directory to look up a local business or service in the past six months.” On the other hand, the study found 65 percent of consumers have used a print directory in the past six months. This is not a particularly bad result for a print directory publisher. In fact, it’s higher than the 54 percent figure from telephone-based research conducted by The Kelsey Group and Yellow Pages Today last September (the fifth such wave since September 2005).

The survey, conducted by the research firm YouGov, also found, “51 percent of the British public use the Internet most to find local businesses.” The TKG/YPT data show that 48 percent of consumers prefer print directories, and 27 percent prefer either IYP or local search. The bottom line is that roughly half, give or take, of consumers prefer print, and the rest are dividing among various online or telephony-based (DA) alternatives.

TKG’s interpretation of its U.K. usage data has always been that print still has strong support, but it is competing with online directories and local search, and the momentum clearly favors these online alternatives. When we look at younger demographics, the momentum toward online is more clear.

At first glance, the YouGov/welovelocal.com data seem to point to a similar conclusion. What’s notable is how the press release seems to bend over backward to accentuate the negative about print directories. When TKG/YPT found that 54 percent had used print directories in the past six months, our takeaway was not “46 percent of U.K. consumers didn’t use printed directories in the past six months.”

That said, we believe print publishers should embrace rather than resist the environmental and consumer-empowerment forces that will lead to an opt-out system for directories sooner or later. Some European publishers are beginning to do just that. This movement will take hold first in large metropolitan markets. Clearly, many consumers when asked say they don’t want the print books (though some may change their minds when the house floods and the power goes out). That number is not likely to get any smaller. Fairness suggests that consumers should have the right to forgo distribution of the print book, particularly in an era where competition leads to multiple directories landing on many doorsteps.

If publishers embrace an opt-out system that is fair, they buy some good will against more draconian measures likely to be introduced in the name of environmental stewardship. And in major markets, publishers will need to begin planning for a day when IYP/local search is the primary product and print is important but secondary.

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