Are The Yellow Pages Obsolete?

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Yellow Pages: This Dinosaur Is About To Be Extinct

Yellow Pages: This Dinosaur Is About To Be Extinct

Following on my previous post, Local Services Businesses: Why You MUST Have a Web Presence, let’s take a few minutes to dig deeper into my assertion that the yellow pages are an unsustainable model for driving leads and business.

This topic applies differently to various business types. Many companies have already made the move to an online-heavy model (e.g. the travel industry). On the other hand, local services businesses can often still generate decent returns from this tactic. While that model has worked to date and may still have some value, the money spent on it could be used much more lucratively.

Massive Shift To Mobile Phone Use

Surely you have noticed the significant pace of adoption of mobile phones. According to Wikipedia, there is an active mobile phone in use for 91% of the US population (286M mobiles, 309M population). In many European and Asian countries, the ratio is even higher, suggesting that a subset of the population uses multiple cell phones. Clearly, you wouldn’t have two mobiles as well as a land line, so this also suggests a shift away from traditional telephone usage overall (or a complete leapfrog to mobile in traditionally technology-lagging markets).

This is not merely speculation, as USA Today reported a similar statistic last month. High points of the article included:

  1. At least a dozen states have abandoned production of white pages altogether
  2. Consumers have been disconnecting landlines at a rate of approximately 10% per year

Online is Displacing the Yellow Pages

There was a time when consumers decided they wanted a product, and then picked up the yellow pages to research who offers said class of products. In the pre-internet days, that was our only option other than asking our friends and coworkers for advice.

Now, we have a multitude of online resources in front of us. You can find listings of all businesses in any industry with a quick Google search or by looking at a directory. Heck, Google even puts the stuff in front of you that their algorithm suggests might be the best match for what you are seeking, and in real-time (via Google Instant)!

You can get on social media sites, forums, or other community venues to compare notes with others. You can read rankings and reviews, product feature documents, and freeform blog posts to learn what real people think about the product or service you’re seeking. Basically, you can manage all parts of the sales process yourself, and then make the purchase via the internet too if you please! Even for local services businesses.

Younger Generations Are Forcing the Issue

I’ve covered some of the generational gap issues between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and GenY / Millennials here on Return On Now. Those issues are even more noticeable when considered with this topic in mind.

We are currently in a major transitional period between generations. First, let’s look at the actual sizes of each group:

  1. Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964): 80M
  2. Generation X (born 1965 – 1983): 50M
  3. Generation Y (born 1983 – 1995): 80M

As you can see, Generation X is truly a “sandwich” generation, as many have come to call it. With 80M Baby Boomers and and equal 80M of GenY (sometimes referred to as “Echo Boomers”, as most of them are the children of Baby Boomers or early Generation X), the passing of the torch of adulthood will be a major event in our lifetimes.

Many Baby Boomers, who are closer to retirement than college, have managed to survive without the internet, cell phones, and other new technologies so far.  Generation X is beginning to drive the bus a lot more in business, and GenY is beginning to come into their own as adults.  There are big differences between the way each of these groups thinks, operates, and behaves.

Generation X has the highest percentage of college graduates and advanced degree earners in history. This generation watched what the Boomers did, incorporated a new way of thinking about and using technology, and accelerated the pace of innovation greatly. This group is delivering the technologies that create all the excitement in GenY, and most of those technologies are dependent on the internet to operate!

The Millennials are the first generation who would be hard-pressed to remember life without the internet and mobile phones. They want everything now, in a convenient fashion, and for it to be as easy as possible to do everything. They are more liberal minded and comfortable with relinquishing control. And they will be the majority of the population within 10-15 years.


The Yellow Pages may not yet be obsolete, but they are running on fumes. As Baby Boomers begin to retire and the younger generations begin to represent an even more significant percentage of the population, everything will move online.

If you are still depending on the Yellow Pages, enjoy it while it lasts. Because it won’t be long.

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As Founder and President of Return On Now, Tommy Landry provides the vision behind our SEO and SEM methodologies. With over 25 years of business experience and a deep understanding of modern internet marketing techniques, he spends his time providing hands-on consulting, insightful content, and engaging public speaking appearances to Online Marketers of all skill levels.

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