Fingers Still Do the Walking…But Mainly Online

It's still common to see piles of phone books delivered to apartment buildings around the city. But many of these yellow pages lay neglected outside front doors as people use the internet far more frequently to find phone numbers.

Walter Avaroma, 28, works for a Manhattan tech company. He giggled when he thought about the last time he actually held a phone book in his hands. “It had to be college,” Avaroma recalled.  But he said he understands why the once iconic book hasn’t yet gone by the wayside. “I think the reason they’re still viable is to reach a certain demographic,” he mused. “I know my grandma isn’t going to use the internet.”

Research director Brad Adgate, with Horizon Media, agrees that phone book advertisers don’t mind targeting the older crowd.

"It’s pretty much generational,” Adgate explained. “An older audience are the ones most likely to use the yellow pages.”

The internet isn’t the only factor in the shrinking industry. Environmental concerns have also prompted some companies to print fewer directories and help residents opt out of unwelcome automatic deliveries.

David Goddard, with IMS Local Search Authority, a company that specializes in yellow page stats, said the industry is expected to print about 400 million yellow page books in 2013 — down 19 million from last year.

The use of thick, yellow-paged book might be declining, but it still generated $6.9 billion in revenue last year for the companies that print and distribute them, according to the market research firm BIA/Kelsey.  A program director with the firm, Charles Laughlin, is projecting that print revenues will continue to fall and will dip to less than half that number by 2016.

Laughlin noted that service companies like plumbers and locksmiths have the most success with yellow page ads.

Still Horizon Media’s Adgate mused in the not to distant future things may change.

“The yellow pages will be something we look back whimsically on in the years ahead and think—remember we had these big books that were like 1,000 pages long and cluttered with ad messages?” Adgate joked.