Bill Gates: Print Yellow Pages Will be Dead in Five Years

Went to bed yesterday reading this article from the Seattle Times. The paper reports on a speech Bill Gates gave to some of Microsoft’s top advertising customers. Other than the usual story of newspapers demise, there was an interesting tidbit about print directories.

The traditional Yellow Pages are doomed as voice-activated Internet searches combined with on-screen interfaces on smart mobile devices get better and proliferate, Gates said. The company’s recent acquisition of voice-technology provider TellMe is accelerating the trend. “When you say something like ‘plumber’ the presentation you get will be far better than what you get in the Yellow Pages,” Gates said. “After all, we know your location and so we can cluster [results] around that. … Yellow Page usage amongst people in their, say below 50, will drop to near zero over the next five years.”

What it means: knowing how strong the print directory ecosystem is, I would be very surprised if it became completely irrelevant in the next five years. I’m also surprised Gates would come out so strongly and say their TellMe acquisition means they’re competing directly against directory publishers, especially at a time when people are starting to root for Microsoft to counter FOG. In any case, if you are in the directory space, you have to make sure you’re not solely dependent on one medium. Like the Kelsey Group used to say (and I’m paraphrasing), “don’t sell in the medium, sell in the database”. That means making sure your content can be accessed via different entry doors like print, online, voice, mobile, instant messenging Nintendo Wii, search engines, etc. As entry doors multiply, make sure you hedge your bets by being present in these various access points.

23 thoughts on “Bill Gates: Print Yellow Pages Will be Dead in Five Years

  1. As usual, billg gets way ahead of himself. hard for a business to vanish when it’s actually increasing (i know, anemic growth, but YP is not *yet* a shrinking market). he’s also overlooked the fact that local search ain’t it’s all cracked up to be: users aren’t sure how to search (or the tools aren’t provided for them) and geotargeting at a local level _sucks_. More on the latter here: http://blog.urbanmapping.com/articles/2007/04/25/why-geotargeting-sucks

  2. As usual, billg gets way ahead of himself. hard for a business to vanish when it’s actually increasing (i know, anemic growth, but YP is not *yet* a shrinking market). he’s also overlooked the fact that local search ain’t it’s all cracked up to be: users aren’t sure how to search (or the tools aren’t provided for them) and geotargeting at a local level _sucks_. More on the latter here: http://blog.urbanmapping.com/articles/2007/04/25/why-geotargeting-sucks

  3. I for one haven’t picked up a print YP directory in years, so I’m not very shocked by Bill Gates’ prediction.

    As far as I’m concerned online directories already do what print directories do, but better, and more conveniently – at least for my needs. While you are evidently far and away more knowledgeable about the space than I am, I wonder if you’re aware of any demographic studies of print directory use? I can tell you that young adults in my circle are certainly not the core market… As Internet ubiquity continues to roll over society, why is it so surprising to imagine a world where people would first turn to the online database, rather than a hefty tome, for finding local merchants? To me, it is entirely within reason.

  4. I for one haven’t picked up a print YP directory in years, so I’m not very shocked by Bill Gates’ prediction.

    As far as I’m concerned online directories already do what print directories do, but better, and more conveniently – at least for my needs. While you are evidently far and away more knowledgeable about the space than I am, I wonder if you’re aware of any demographic studies of print directory use? I can tell you that young adults in my circle are certainly not the core market… As Internet ubiquity continues to roll over society, why is it so surprising to imagine a world where people would first turn to the online database, rather than a hefty tome, for finding local merchants? To me, it is entirely within reason.

  5. first, I need to disclose that I am VP marketing at YellowPages group, the leading publisher in Canada. But I have numerous researches indicating to me that print is still the leading source of references to SMEs, while the most frequent pattern amongst users is a dual usage, print and online.I hope nobody will perceive Mr gates as a guru by this statement, since not only Microsoft failed miserably on the search front, but also missed the boat several years ago when shutting down sidewalk…And now the new trend is voice ! Excuse me, but Gates never invented the 411 service, nor a voice activated local search, when Yellow Pages Group has already been operating a voice activated service for more than a year in Canada…and more to come soon. Try 310-yelo on any phone in Canada and you will access what Mr gates said is the next holly grail…In the meantime, why should advertisers get out of a medium that generates around 70 % of their sales leads ???

  6. first, I need to disclose that I am VP marketing at YellowPages group, the leading publisher in Canada. But I have numerous researches indicating to me that print is still the leading source of references to SMEs, while the most frequent pattern amongst users is a dual usage, print and online.I hope nobody will perceive Mr gates as a guru by this statement, since not only Microsoft failed miserably on the search front, but also missed the boat several years ago when shutting down sidewalk…And now the new trend is voice ! Excuse me, but Gates never invented the 411 service, nor a voice activated local search, when Yellow Pages Group has already been operating a voice activated service for more than a year in Canada…and more to come soon. Try 310-yelo on any phone in Canada and you will access what Mr gates said is the next holly grail…In the meantime, why should advertisers get out of a medium that generates around 70 % of their sales leads ???

  7. I personally have had issues with online local search.

    I’m a nettie & netepreneur, so my first reaction is to always search online for local businesses for personal things, like restaurants, car mechanics, stores that carry a certain product, etc., & every time I did that here in the Toronto area, I never got ANY results.

    It frustrated me to no end.

    Finally after years of this going on & me thinking Canadians totally SUCK when it comes to websites LOL, I finally had to resort to the Yellow Pages. I later found out the businesses in Canada do suck when it comes to an online presence, but that’s besides the point : )

    Now, about 2 weeks ago Google must have changed their algorithm or something, b/c now I can’t get any search results for the States etc. b/c I usually look for sites in the Sates when I’m doing biz. So I’ve tried to complain to Google, b/c I should be able to search locally as well as all over the net depending on what I need.

    End of rant : )

    Michelle

  8. I personally have had issues with online local search.

    I’m a nettie & netepreneur, so my first reaction is to always search online for local businesses for personal things, like restaurants, car mechanics, stores that carry a certain product, etc., & every time I did that here in the Toronto area, I never got ANY results.

    It frustrated me to no end.

    Finally after years of this going on & me thinking Canadians totally SUCK when it comes to websites LOL, I finally had to resort to the Yellow Pages. I later found out the businesses in Canada do suck when it comes to an online presence, but that’s besides the point : )

    Now, about 2 weeks ago Google must have changed their algorithm or something, b/c now I can’t get any search results for the States etc. b/c I usually look for sites in the Sates when I’m doing biz. So I’ve tried to complain to Google, b/c I should be able to search locally as well as all over the net depending on what I need.

    End of rant : )

    Michelle

  9. I think an appropriate question would be why has Verizon’s Boston Area Yellow Pages(now Idearc Media) lost over 30 million in annual revenue over the last 6 years?
    The reason is quite simple, usage has declined dramatically, they are completely mismanaged and for the 1st time in their history thay face competition that they never had to deal with before.
    The end is near…

  10. I think an appropriate question would be why has Verizon’s Boston Area Yellow Pages(now Idearc Media) lost over 30 million in annual revenue over the last 6 years?
    The reason is quite simple, usage has declined dramatically, they are completely mismanaged and for the 1st time in their history thay face competition that they never had to deal with before.
    The end is near…

  11. Consumers are finding businesses with their finger tips alright…it’s just happening with a click of a mouse instead of a flip of a page. Yellow pages is dying…a very slow death. I manage a yellow page advertising program for two major van lines in the US and even with the economic impact on the relocation industry the fact remains that yellow page leads are less and less year over year, and the spend increases. The shift from yellow pages to online search has arrived. Even the statistics from the yellow page agency’s show that online search is rivaling the “old book”. Leads generated by yellow pages under the “Movers” heading has shifted dramatically in the last 5 years. 50% of consumers looking for a mover used online search, and just 41% used the yellow pages. Yellow pages used to be the number one source for how consumers found a mover, with 95% of consumers using yellow pages. Not any more. Consumer behavior is impacting the yellow pages and will continue to shift as search engines are refined and eventually take over the world.

  12. Consumers are finding businesses with their finger tips alright…it’s just happening with a click of a mouse instead of a flip of a page. Yellow pages is dying…a very slow death. I manage a yellow page advertising program for two major van lines in the US and even with the economic impact on the relocation industry the fact remains that yellow page leads are less and less year over year, and the spend increases. The shift from yellow pages to online search has arrived. Even the statistics from the yellow page agency’s show that online search is rivaling the “old book”. Leads generated by yellow pages under the “Movers” heading has shifted dramatically in the last 5 years. 50% of consumers looking for a mover used online search, and just 41% used the yellow pages. Yellow pages used to be the number one source for how consumers found a mover, with 95% of consumers using yellow pages. Not any more. Consumer behavior is impacting the yellow pages and will continue to shift as search engines are refined and eventually take over the world.

  13. I’ve got a little secret. Idearc is battling back. They have a search engine marketing product that’s the best on the market (ReachLocal and ATT’s offering it truly pathetic) . They’ve got a place for their advertisers to go – remember they’ve got long standing relationships with millions of small businesses across the U.S.

    So who are those businesses going to trust to hold their hand into the world of internet marketing – that nice friendly Idearc rep they’ve known for 5-10 years or the hyper-retard ReachLocal rep.

  14. I’ve got a little secret. Idearc is battling back. They have a search engine marketing product that’s the best on the market (ReachLocal and ATT’s offering it truly pathetic) . They’ve got a place for their advertisers to go – remember they’ve got long standing relationships with millions of small businesses across the U.S.

    So who are those businesses going to trust to hold their hand into the world of internet marketing – that nice friendly Idearc rep they’ve known for 5-10 years or the hyper-retard ReachLocal rep.

  15. As a small business owner, I have been using yellow pages for years. (Our company is 93 years old) In the begining there was only one yellow pages directory. Then someone had the idea to section the book into multiple zones. Now a service industry such as mine was forced to buy advertising in every book. Then the rates started going up by more than 10% every year. In recent years, the books have been getting thinner. A sign that retailers are saying you’re book is working but the ROI sucks. After revamping our website and highering an SEO company, our internet leads have increased from 1.3% of sales to 8.9% in under 7 months. Yellow pages traditionally was 13% (NOT 70% as yellow pages rep above stated. NEVER been 70%)…anyway it’s dropped to 7%. So you can see, one is going up, the other IS going down. I must add though. We are the first listing in the yellow pages rival CanPages.ca. and this book went back to basics. One book for the whole city…We pulled most of our yellow pages advertising dollars. My opinion is based on numbers. And friends, numbers don’t lie. Finally, I think print ads are necessary for the 50+ crowd which are the highest paying customers….for a few more years anyway.
    http://www.fergusonmoving.com

  16. As a small business owner, I have been using yellow pages for years. (Our company is 93 years old) In the begining there was only one yellow pages directory. Then someone had the idea to section the book into multiple zones. Now a service industry such as mine was forced to buy advertising in every book. Then the rates started going up by more than 10% every year. In recent years, the books have been getting thinner. A sign that retailers are saying you’re book is working but the ROI sucks. After revamping our website and highering an SEO company, our internet leads have increased from 1.3% of sales to 8.9% in under 7 months. Yellow pages traditionally was 13% (NOT 70% as yellow pages rep above stated. NEVER been 70%)…anyway it’s dropped to 7%. So you can see, one is going up, the other IS going down. I must add though. We are the first listing in the yellow pages rival CanPages.ca. and this book went back to basics. One book for the whole city…We pulled most of our yellow pages advertising dollars. My opinion is based on numbers. And friends, numbers don’t lie. Finally, I think print ads are necessary for the 50+ crowd which are the highest paying customers….for a few more years anyway.
    http://www.fergusonmoving.com

  17. Lorner, above, represents what we are hearing from the small business owner about phone books. Certainly having a local listing so that prospects and customers can find your number is important, but online directories offer so much more. THere’s the convenience (easy to search & not having space for a bunch of clunky books that we don’t use often) and also having reviews online. The recommendations or reviews are such a big help and we are relying on that kind of word-of-mouth on the internet so much more today. It’s certainly helped to identify the bad businesses out there!
    Local service business are getting squeezed and internet marketing is so much more cost-effective when done properly.
    Thanks for the post – still as good today as it was when you wrote it.

  18. i dont think so that printed yellow pages will be dead in five years because printed yellow pages is the option for those who dont have any idea about online yellow pages so why any budy use online when he dont have idea or knowledge how to use that

  19. For sure they will be gone! Just look at google maps or anything else and it’s no doubt that they will be gone. As the older generation ages the yellow pages will be phased out because all of the children will only know how to use online things.

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