The Rise of Digital Advertising in the Post-Print Yellow Pages Era

NEW YORK – Since their inception, the Yellow Pages have been an iconic symbol of communication, both in America and around the world, with the big yellow book plunking down on stoops across the country annually for decades. For many, it was the only way to find contact information for a plethora of businesses, and likewise, it was also a primary way for many of those self-same businesses to advertise to the public.

However, in recent years the rise of the Internet has signaled a slow-but-sure death knell of print Yellow Page directories, and with that unfortunate passing, businesses have been abandoning the format in droves and going to where the money is. Yes, in 2019, the money to be spent on digital advertising is estimated to be as high as $130 billion, which puts the format on pace to easily surpass print, radio, billboards, and television; combined, those other formats are expected to see only $110 billion invested in them, a first for advertising in general and a real indicator that digital has truly arrived.

Overall, spending on traditional print Yellow Pages have been in decline for years; in 2019, money spent on Yellow Page advertising is estimated to drop approximately 19 percent over the previous year – with an additional 18 percent drop in other print formats – a continuing trend that has prevailed for some time now. Digital Yellow Page advertising on the other hand – along with ads placed with prominent online retailers – has become the norm and is expected to continue to rise. For the first time, print, TV, and radio has lost the lion’s share of the advertising pie, dropping to a 46 percent market share, down from 51 percent in 2018.

For years, with the advent of the internet and portable digital devices such as smartphones, iPads, and tablets, print Yellow Pages have taken a hit in terms of distribution and advertising dollars as more and more people have embraced online sources for information. In the United States, numerous companies publish Yellow Page directories – as opposed to places where the term is trademarked, such as the United Kingdom – and the market for print phone books has found itself growing more and more unwanted, with droves of people opting-out of delivery in recent years. It’s gotten so bad that the UK recently ended the 51 year print run of its own version of the Yellow Pages, instead opting to go with online-based directories only…along with online-based advertising options for businesses, of course.

A very large segment of the population is turning away from print directories not just because of their lack of efficiency – after all, it’s far faster and easier to look up a business on your phone while on the go than having to head home to crack open a big ol’ book – but also for environmental and sustainability issues, as the creation and eventual disposal of phone books generates a great deal of waste and pollution.
In addition, online advertising is simply more dynamic and reaches a boarder audience than print. After all, over 90 percent of Americans are currently internet users, and online advertising allows companies to reach consumers as they’re actively searching for products, as opposed to interrupting them during other activities. In addition, online marketing allows for businesses to gauge just how effective their current campaign is due to advanced tracking and analytics, something that print cannot offer as effectively.

Clearly, businesses are reallocating their advertising budgets to digital sources in order to get noticed; online behemoths Facebook and Google alone account for almost 60 percent of digital ad revenue, in addition to revenue brought in by retailers such as Amazon and online Yellow Page directories, which have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years in terms of ad reach. While print ads still serve a very specific purpose – sometimes they can still be effectively used on a hyper-local level for very specific needs – it’s still only a matter of time before it completely falls by the wayside as it continuously loses ground to its digital counterpart.