February 28, 2008 | Back to: Local News

What is the truth about yellow book advertising?

Remember the old days when the phone directory came out once a year?

Now it seems like yellow books are coming out constantly. And every time you see them stacked around the trash can at the post office, piled at your mailbox or littering your street.

Each yellow book company thinks you need a book for every person, not just every household. That's why 350,000 books are dumped on Western Nevada County with a population of 60,000.

Why are there so many different phone directory companies? Because the phone directory companies make so much money from businesses who still believe they must put big ads in all of the books to stay in business. The truth is that advertising in all of these books can actually put a business out of business because of the high cost. Five times as many phone directories now reach the same number of homes as the old days.

Why do they dump them here? The yellow directory companies dump the directories along the road and in your mailbox so they can tell the advertisers how many books were printed. What they don't tell advertisers is that no one needs or wants the directories. So the books wait for someone to take them away. The book company doesn't remove them because they'd have to admit they're trash. Consumers don't remove them because they don't need them.

Since the yellow directories' distribution figures aren't audited by an independent company, advertisers are left to assume that if the books are printed that they're all being read.

The Truth is...

Most people already know the name of the business they want to call when they refer to a yellow directory. In these cases, the size of the ad doesn't matter. The reader will refer to the business listing, not the ad.

Consider a smaller ad, or no display ad at all, and all customers will still be able to find your phone number.

The Truth is...

Of two competing businesses with yellow book ads, the business with the smaller ad has the advantage, all other factors being equal.

The business with the smaller ad has the advantage becuase they have less expense. The money they save in useless yellow book advertising can be used for marketing that is truly effective, or just have the savings go to the bottom line.

After all, readers are smart enough to know that a big ad doesn't mean you have a big business.

The high cost of yellow book advertising can be a deciding factor for small businesses that fail.

The Truth is...

No one "reads" the phone book. People refer to the yellow book occasionally for a phone number.

No one reads the yellow book for fun, to find out about new things or what's going on. No one clips photos or articles out of the yellow book to share with family and friends. The yellow book is the last place to turn for news about specials your business has, change in menu, hours or personnel. The yellow book can't help your business recruit new talent.

The Truth is...

Yellow directories tell how your business used to be.

The data that the yellow directory company uses is old before the book is printed. Once printed, there is time for the book to be distributed, and when someone does take it home and put it on the shelf it remains there for months or years before there is any chance that they will open it to look for your phone number. By that time, the information in the ad is probably wrong.

Changes in yellow book ads have to be planned months in advance.

The future of yellow book advertising is that there won't be any. Online directories like the business directory at http://yellowlinks.theunion.com are a far better way for folks to search for business phone numbers and other information. They are updated automatically and they don't have to be recycled.

The Truth is...

Most yellow directories help support companies that don't support Nevada County.

The phone book companies are printed in other states and the ads are sold by people that don't live here. These companies have no interest in Nevada County, they don't support local non-profit charities, the arts or other causes of importance to you or you family.

If these companies don't support your business, why should your business support them?

The Truth is...

Audited distribution figures are the way to judge distribution, not the number of books printed.

You can tell with simple math that something is wrong when 350,000 books are supposedly distributed to an area with a population of only 60,000.

Distribution numbers must be verified by an independent company other than the one selling the advertising to avoid fraud.

If the distribution figures aren't audited, you can't believe any of them.

1) Help clean up after the yellow dumping by bringing any piles of books to The Union office for recycling.

2) Contact any of the yellow book companies and ask that they stop dumping books in Nevada County.

3) We could start a "do not dump" list, like the national Do Not Call list, if there is enough community support for that list. We could then send that list of addresses to each of the phone companies annually asking them not to dump at those locations.

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The Union Updated Jul 28, 2008 12:35PM Published Feb 28, 2008 06:52PM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.