The Yellow Pages Association released some details of its 2008 U.S. usage study, which showed a substantial drop in print references, mostly but not completely offset by online Yellow Pages usage growth. Print references, measured for YPA by KN/SRI, dropped about 8 percent from 13.4 billion to 12.3 billion. Online Yellow Pages lookups, as measured by comScore, grew 22 percent to 4.6 billion. By its calculation, the YPA figures total U.S. Yellow Pages usage declined 2 percent in 2008 to 16.9 billion references.
The YPA’s Neg Norton says none of this should be a surprise given the state of the economy.
“In this period of declining consumer spending, we would anticipate some drop-off in consumers searching for local businesses,” Norton said. “They are buying less and therefore searching less. But for businesses, it’s more important than ever to place ads where they deliver the strongest sales leads. That’s where Yellow Pages are strong and why we saw a much smaller decline in search compared to the drop-off in the overall economy.”
Norton also acknowledged that usage is shifting, but he says the shift is to entities where Yellow Pages publishers play a role — IYPs, the largest of which they own, and search engines, which leverage publisher data.
“Print Yellow Pages continue to have phenomenal reach, but more and more people are turning to Internet Yellow Pages or other local search sites, where we feed our data. Whatever way consumers choose to find a local business, chances are the last mile of the search was supported by Yellow Pages.”
We are not surprised by the data either. The print number reflects a long-range trend, and it only stands to reason that declines would accelerate in a time when people are saving their money and deferring nonessential spending. A larger argument can be made over whether Yellow Pages should measure references, and whether the reference figure is a real reflection of the product’s value. Measuring actual behavior like calls, clicks and transactions would tell a more compelling story about the value Yellow Pages provides.