By Kelli B. Grant
Consumers have largely dumped local “white pages” for online directories, but experts say a surprising number are still flipping through the yellow pages.
AT&T announced Monday that it plans to sell a majority stake in its Yellow Pages business to private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. It will retain a 47% stake in the new “YP Holdings” venture, as well as $750 million cash and a $200 million note, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Despite the proliferation of online directories, AT&T reported last year that nearly 70% of consumers used the Yellow Pages. Frequent users are likely older consumers “because they’ve used Yellow Pages their whole life,” says Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers. Print directories can also be a good backup for consumers without a smartphone or fast Internet connection, he says, although both are dwindling groups. (PewResearch reports 46% of American adults use a smartphone, and 62% have a high-speed broadband connection at home.) “It doesn’t hurt to put the Yellow Pages on top of the fridge, or in a drawer, and have it there as a backup,” he says.
Of course many younger consumers are finding online directories such as Yelp.com and Angie’s List — or a simple Google search — faster and more valuable than a flip through a print directory, says technology consultant Alex Goldfayn of Evangelist Marketing Institute. Results are more easily sorted by proximity and news and ratings components give searchers added value by helping them find not just a plumber, but one of the better ones in the area.
To that end, AT&T’s online version of the Yellow Pages — YP.com – is also part of the sale, and likely to become more of the focus, Goldfayn says. “I’m not sure we still need that big yellow book,” he says. About a third of consumers use the site, AT&T said last year. YP.com also offers a rotation of daily deals for regional businesses a la Groupon, a discount opportunity experts say could further push the switch to online searches for local services.
Consumers who’d rather go online only can ditch their copy altogether. Last February, the Local Search Association and Association of Directory Publishers launched YellowPagesOptOut.com, which allows consumers to discontinue their subscriptions to local directories. It takes about 12 weeks to process a request. “Our local business listings are also available online and via mobile apps, so we hope those who prefer online resources will try our digital search tools to find and support a local business,” says Neg Norton, president of the association.