Verizon Feels the White Pages Heat, Are The Yellow Pages Next?

The dumping of phone books onto humanity is one of my favorite topics. I’ve lamented the arrival of the yellow pages for three years running (2009, 2008, 2007).

Now, a breath of fresh air: The New York Times reports that Verizon wants to pull the plug on white pages for New York City in a move that would save 5,000 tons of paper annually. According to the article, an astonishing 1 in 9 New Yorkers actually do, in fact, still use the white pages. But with Verizon’s proposal, they’d still be able to get one by request. Cutting a cost that’s also a nuisance for 8 out of 9 people is just good business.

However, as is evident every year, the advertiser fueled yellow pages are a far more profitable business. Searching around online hasn’t yielded much good data on how many people continue to use yellow pages, but clearly advertisers and yellow page distributors remain convinced that it’s something higher than 1 in 9, otherwise they would have streamlined their distribution. Wouldn’t they? One look at the dozens of abandoned tomes in my foyer and you’d argue that advertisers have been duped. But perhaps I’m wrong again.

So here’s a reader project: Can anyone find more reliable polling data that shows how many Americans (or any other country for that matter) actually use phone books? For starters, here’s a poll for you. Please leave a comment if you know of better data or how to get it.

[poll id=”8″]

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

15 responses

  1. Nick –

    I work for SuperMedia, whose legacy is as publisher of the Verizon Yellow Pages. Reality is, the business white and yellow pages are still a great source of commerce. Below are studies validating this.

    Specific to my company, I can tell you businesses all over the country are experiencing increases in sales because of our game-changing, exclusive, award-winning, cape-wearing, shield-donning, consumer-focused SuperGuarantee program providing confidence and protection to ready to by consumers. We’ve differentiated our services to the benefit of our clients and consumers. For details on the SuperGuarantee, go to

    Our data is showing an increase in the number of consumers using our books. This is according to Gallup. In addition, we measure call counts for our clients – in an effort to prove the effectiveness – and we have seen an upward trend in those calls. Bottom line is our clients are benefiting from advertising in our SuperYellowPages. The SuperGuarantee has more consumers using our SuperYellowPages which, in turn, translates into more sales for our businesses.

    Below are the studies:

    In total, consumers referenced print and Internet Yellow Pages 16.9 billion times in 2009.

    comScore found that Internet Yellow Pages continued to chart growth, increasing from 4.6 billion in 2008 to 4.9 billion references in 2009.

    Burke, relying on the new methodology combining Internet and telephone surveys for the first time, found that print Yellow Pages received 12 billion references in 2009.

    The percentage of those surveyed who said they had used print Yellow Pages within the last month increased 12 percent over the course of the year, from 51.5 percent in the first quarter to 57.6 percent in the fourth quarter.

    Respondents also turned to print Yellow Pages more frequently as the year progressed. In the first quarter, there was an average of 0.93 references per U.S. adult per week. By the fourth quarter, that had grown 19 percent to 1.11 references per adult per week.

    Approximately 8 out of 10 print Yellow Pages searches were from people who said they were ready to buy, with 39 percent reporting they had made a purchase after finding local business information in a print Yellow Pages directory, and an additional 39 percent saying they intended to make a purchase.

  2. Andrew – Thanks very much for taking the time to comment today. I really appreciate the links and data – it makes things a lot more clear.

    It seems many of the numbers in the MarketWire reports combine “Print and Internet Yellow Pages”. This seems a bit odd since “Internet” yellow pages are a completely different product – one that competes with Yelp, Google and so on. I'm not surprised to see that those combined numbers are high. Personally, I've never used “online yellow pages” as anything other than a metaphor for Google, but I see now that it's a popular concept, which is a good thing – and more or less what I would expect in a world transitioning away from print media. I do wonder if “online yellow pages” could grow more popular if they were marketed more visibly, but that's another topic.

    But some of the statements seem a little misleading, such as ” In a new annual study released today, more consumers said they referenced Yellow Pages local search solutions than any other source when searching for local business information.”

    Well, is that print or internet? It takes digging to figure out which.

    I do see, as you mention, that the use of Print media yellow pages is much higher than I thought. Also, I may have been over-generalizing when I used the term “yellow pages” as I use it specifically for print.

    Anyway, here are a couple questions:

    1) Does comscore (or anyone else) report the demographics of people using the PRINT yellow pages? My assumption is it would skew older

    2) Is it were demonstrated that large segments of consumers adamantly dislike having a phonebook dropped off every year, couldn't YP save a lot of money by not making the delivery and instead focusing on internet search?

    3) In general, do you think it makes sense (either economically or environmentally) to continue handing out printed phone books for the foreseeable future? Do you envision a time when it simply makes no sense any more?


  3. Nick,

    I am the research director at the Yellow Pages Association and can give you an answer to your first question regarding age demographics for the Local Media Tracking Study conducted by Burke that Andy mentioned above.

    You are correct that usage of print Yellow Pages skews older, but I think you will find the results surprising. The percentage of U.S. adults (18+) who have used the print Yellow Pages in the past month by age is as follows:

    18-24 36%
    25-34 47%
    35-54 53%
    55-64 57%
    65+ 53%

    As you can see, over 1/3 of people 18-24 used a print Yellow Pages within the past month and almost 1/2 of people age 25-34 did the same.

    I hope this answers your question.

  4. Thanks Larry! I am curious – does your association represent solely the printed product or the various online versions as well? Do you have opinions or a strategy for moving away from print some time in the future?

    1. Nick,

      The Yellow Pages Association has over 400 members globally and we represent companies that produce both paper and electronic products. Traditional publishers are moving to platform neutral product offerings. Their purpose is to match up consumers and advertisers regardless of the way in which the information is accessed and delivered. Yellow Pages publishers are no longer in the print directory business, they are in the lead generation business.

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  7. It was about time for Yellow and White Pages to embrace the technological era. People need easier ways of getting the desired information. Yellow Pages Online helps its users gain some time by performing computerized searches rather than searching through the big book.

  8. As an business there has never been a better time to advertise…There is much less competition in the book these days beacuse people have said its dead. Well Im happy for these people to believe that becasue my phone is always ringing beacuse of the book. ( people said that the internet would replace the newspaper and that never happened ) happy days

  9. I am a professional writer who once spent some time in the yellow pages industry in a sales capacity. I have read the postings in response to your article and find certain ones laughable insofar as they are clearly “plants” from industry insiders at Supermedia. Let’s examine some of the rhetoric: “… because of our game-changing, exclusive, award-winning, cape-wearing, shield-donning, consumer-focused SuperGuarantee program providing confidence and protection to ready to by consumers..” If this wasn’t written by a Supermedia insider I have some MCI stock you might be interested in buying. Please, leave the sales hype at the front door and just answer the question. The fact of the matter is the print yellow pages are in a steady rate of decline regarding usage. The facts are inarguable. I wouldn’t have a problem with this and neither would many small businesses who advertise in the directory if not for the assumption by Supermedia that they should charge more money while at the same time delivering less results. What’s the yellow pages worth? Simple – what businesses are willing to pay for it. Look at the revenue numbers. The industry is crashing by no less than 5% per year. Instead of lowering prices accordingly, they attempt to secure higher rates. It’s insane logic. Yet, because of the spin masters who bend the true data to their benefit, most businesses are confused what the real truth is regarding yellow pages use. Just use common sense. If revenues for the publishers continue to fall, it’s because the value of the product has diminished. Stop paying more for this year when they give you less return than in past years. How exactly can you fight the system. Just tell your rep you saw that the industry has lost revenues of 5% over last year and you are cutting your yellow pages budget accordingly. You will get the song and dance act one poster mentioned about there being less competition in the book because of cutbacks, but again, its a smokescreen. Rest assured if the value was indeed still there, so would the revenues. Use common sense.

    1. I have been in sales for RHDonnelley -now Dex One for over 10 years in sales. It is my belief that there is nobody more knowledgable on this subject than Dr. Dennis Fromholzer. Here is a link to his site – stationed in Boulder, Colorado. He has the stats to back up his teachings. Check it out.
      Great example of perception vs reality.

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  11. I also have the same feeling towards Yellow Pages. It used to be the ‘in’ thing in searching for information, but now, more people wanted to type and click instead of flipping through the pages of the big book.

    These guys over YP might be doing something to be competitive again. But in my opinion, they have to work double time.


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