Neg Norton, President of the Yellow Pages Association, used a large portion of his speech to tout the virtues of Yellow Pages and how 'healthy' the industry is, amidst a sea of criticism and doubt. A defense-laden speech is never one to remember. A keynote should offer innovation, optimism and direction. Undoubtedly, print Yellow Pages still have a wealth of value and many people still use them - but if anyone believes they will stand the test of time - they are kidding themselves.
Here's a portion of Norton's speech:
Print usage is stable, not declining, both here in the U.S. and in
Canada. Domestically there were 13.4 billion print references in 2007, the same
as in 2006. That's roughly 60 times per adult, per year. In Canada, usage of
print Yellow Pages also remains stable. Seven out of ten Canadians have used a
print directory over the past month and two-thirds of business searches still
come from print. These are significant numbers in an environment where many have
decided that "no one uses the Yellow Pages anymore.
Norton goes on to list stats and figures, even using two examples of merchants finding value advertising in the Yellow Pages, as if he had to sell people in his own industry. Out of his entire speech, maybe 1/20 of it was dedicated to any mention of internet and its implications.
Let me ask you: Do you think there is one college kid who's graduated in the last 10 years that didn't have to use the internet in college? Do you think any of those same graduates, who grew up on the internet, and cell phone searches, are ever going to go to the Yellow Pages you and I grew up on?
Out of all the 'old media' industries that have been affected by the internet - music, television, newspaper disrupted by the likes of Napster, iTunes, YouTube, craigslist - Yellow Pages has responded by changing the least. While YP is still largely profitable, the inclination and pressure to change is not as immediate. As publicly traded companies, it may be hard to balance quarterly revenue goals with long-term thinking. On the other hand, one of the most innovative 'old media' companies, Viacom, has rebuilt its brand by focusing on building out almost 300 hundred DIFFERENT sites around its brands!
Norton in his speech also says:
The tone and tenor of the entire advertising industry is anxious--- in fact
just one week ago, TNS Media Intelligence reported that U.S. ad spending was
flat in '07 vs '06 and that the 4th quarter '07 ad spend was slightly negative.
Yellow Pages, as a member of that industry, are fighting similar headwinds as
well as misperceptions because we are among the least understood of all
If in fact the Yellow Page industry is the 'least understood,' much of it would have to do with everyone looking in from the outside and seeing so many missed opportunities from a media juggernaut. For now their Yellow Page Conference, titled New Tools New World, presented almost no new tools for an industry that has a vantage point that could easily transition them to industry leaders in another space: Local Internet.