Imminent Death of Paper Phone Books? Not Quite.

through the telephone directory

Image by smallritual via Flickr

Time to offer some advice

A friend forwarded an article citing a study proclaiming the imminent death of paper phone directories.  Don’t believe it.  In fact, if you’re a small business and you’re looking for a cost-effective advertising investment, phone directories might be a better value today than they were just a few years ago.

First…a disclaimer.  I sell advertising that includes phone directories.  I also sell an array of online advertising services in addition to even more “old media” like direct mail.  The people I work for really don’t care if my advertising sales come from print directories or new media.  I don’t care either.  In fact, I would rather sell more internet advertising.  It is popular, easier to sell, and renews nicely.   A lot of misperceptions support this trend.  I won’t complain, however…

…I have to tell you…

There are several sound business factors that favor people who still choose to advertise in phone directories.  Yes, directory usage continues to decline, but it does so very slowly. 

That is the first positive factor favoring print directory advertisers.  The perception that directories don’t get used have influenced some businesses to mistakenly pull from phone books.  This means there’s less competition competing for the leads that do come from phone books.  Ad content in phone directories has declined disproportionately to the usage of directories.  This bodes well for yellow page directory advertisers.

Second, the economy has been down (remember?) and too many business owners mistakenly see advertising as an expense.  (If it really is an expense, why do it all, in good times or bad?)  This has influenced poor decisions about advertising, again limiting the advertisers competing for leads from phone directories which benefits those who choose to stay in the game.

Even industries that are down still generate business.  In fact, in a down market you can argue that it is even more important to advertise.   There might fewer people seeking lawn care maintenance services, for example, but people still seek those services.  If you think of potential business as a pie, even if the pie is smaller, some businesses are getting more of it because they have less competition competing for it.

Which brings up another good reason to stick with directories.  Now is a time to build market share.  It is not a time for the timid.  Phone directories are a very cost-effective way to build market share.  As long as they generate leads, take advantage of it.

And costs generally are better from phone directories.  (But not all directories offer value equally.  More on that in a moment.)  Many people don’t understand how the internet works.  Social media is a big buzz word, but many businesses are not in a position to see a lot of organic growth from social media, especially for new lead generation.  Services like SEO and SEM can be very expensive.  $100 leads are not uncommon.  If you work with a credible advertising professional, phone directories can deliver leads for a fraction of that cost.

Some businesses inherently do very well in phone books.  Any business that caters to emergencies, for example, tend to do well.  You come home and find a very sick pet…do you log on the phone book and start searching or do you flip open a phone book?  The myth of speed and accuracy from the internet has yet to be completely answered. 

Or discretion…need an attorney?  Do you search on the office computer or even the home computer where searches might be tracked?  Examples abound.

Not all phone directories are created equally, however.  Like all industries, the advertising interest evolves and responds to market changes.  Shop a little.  Leads are leads, they’re like a commodity and some businesses deliver the same product at better prices and greater efficiencies.  The phone book you grew up with might not be the best deal.  Again, a good professional can help you sort this out.

Finally, a word about waste.  A single phone book delivered once a year is significantly less wasteful than the daily mail.  (Remember…I sell direct mail, too, so trying to be balanced.)  If you have the patience to do so, hold a month’s worth of junk mail and weigh it against your phone directory.  (Yes, you have one…go look.) 

Don’t pish posh directories.  Not yet.  Even the study funded by the “ban the phone book people” (coincidence?) admits that older folks make up most of phone directory usage and they ain’t quite dead yet…and they have money!

Enough advice.  Now scroll down and read something better.  Tell your friends!


One thought on “Imminent Death of Paper Phone Books? Not Quite.

  1. Pingback: Pakistan phone directory |

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