Monthly Archives: October 2010

Tech Talk – How will new electronic gadgets impact Yellow Pages print usage?

A recent Pew Internet & American Life bimonthly report – Americans and their gadgets provided some interesting stats on how the “digital” world has exploded far beyond the traditional PC desktop and is now showing some significant impact to many industry segments.  But will it also impact print Yellow Pages?

The pace of adoption of new, lower cost tech toys into everyday life is certainly startling.  No long are the hot new toys only available to just the tech geeks.  The average consumer has a dizzying array of devices they can now choose from which offer the “anytime, anywhere” access to news, information, friends, and entertainment.

Some of the key findings were:

  • 85% of Americans now own a cell phone. Cell phone ownership rates among young adults (18-29 year olds) has now reached an eye popping 96%.  For this demographic, mobile phones have almost become a “necessity” of modern communications.  How did we use to survive without them?
  • 76% of Americans own either a desktop or a laptop computer. Since 2006, laptop ownership has grown dramatically (from 30% to 52%) while desktop ownership has declined some.
  • Just under half of American adults (47%) own an mp3 player such as an iPod, an exponential five-fold increase from the 11% who owned this type of device in early 2005.
  • E-book readers (such as the Kindle) and tablet computers (such as the iPad) — the hottest new toys are still relatively new arrivals to the consumer technology scene and are owned by a relatively modest number of Americans.  Expect that to change after this upcoming holiday season.
  • Adding it all up, eight in ten American adults (78%) own two or more of these devices.

So where does all this leave the Yellow Page industry?

First and foremost, who is going to work with small businesses to recast their advertising messages onto these new media? Obviously their traditional advertising programs will need to be modified, updated, and resized to work in each of these different digital worlds. Publishers clearly understand this need as they have begun to reposition their sales teams as true multimedia consultants who were delivering leads to the doorstep of the advertiser and asked they not be as focused on what the platform is.

Secondly several publishers have indicated that despite the perception that the print product usage is rapidly declining in larger metro areas, call tracking volumes continue to go up. This isn’t possible if people aren’t using the print books.  Print is NOT dead, and won’t be for a long, long time.

Clearly we are headed towards a more diversified digital world with the advancements now available across a wide range of technology. For these new platforms to succeed robust, informative, and accurate content will be needed. When it comes to small and midsize business advertising, the yellow page industry is ideally positioned to be the supporting provider across all of these platforms whenever they are ready for local advertising information.

 

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Environmental: We’ll Be Ok, If You Do Your Part

Paper atheists and local city governments are frothing with joy over the Seattle City Council recent decision to begin charging publishers a $.40/book pre-delivery waste recovery charge, as well as other fees/licenses, for the privilege of delivering books in the city.  The legislation also establishes the requirement for a single opt-out point by 2011, which of course, the government will control, despite the fact that the industry and publishers already have mechanisms in place. While on the surface this legislative attempt to single out the Yellow Pages industry appears to be Armageddon for print products, I’m not so sure that this isn’t an opportunity for the Yellow Pages industry.

If you listen to the comments from the Seattle City Council or follow some of the commentary that appears on the blogs and online chat rooms, you would initially believe that the effort to ban or discontinue printed directories is because of some overarching environmental concerns. Silly me.  The reality is this new effort in Seattle is nothing more than a financial grab by the local government.

As the former mayor and Town Councilman for a small town I can tell you that one of the ongoing challenges facing local governments is how to fund a wide range of initiatives, many of which are not budgeted.  While there always seemed to be no shortage of viable projects that even the smallest of governments would like to pursue, even in good economic times, there never seems to be enough money to do them. Local governments also face many mandates that come from state and federal governments which are usually only partial or totally unfunded requirements. For example, it sounds great that the state may be offering grant programs (aka money) to hire additional police officers or buy critical equipment.  Yet most of these programs are only partially funded grants. To receive the grant funds, the local government must find a way to come up with a matching amount to receive the grant.  Finding those matching funds can be interesting as no one is interested in raising taxes, especially in this economy.

The recent actions in Seattle should not be a surprise — the city government wants to shift several hundreds of thousands of dollars in waste costs from their shoulders to someone else. The Yellow Page industry is the perfect target for shifting these costs. First off, publishers like DEX and Yellowbook are not based in the Seattle area.  They are just some foreign, big bad corporation dumping costs on the poor citizens.  No local citizen is ever going to complain if they tax a non-local corporation.  But imagine the outcry if the city was trying to implement an ongoing tax on Boeing or Microsoft, the two local darlings in the Seattle economy.

Secondly, the Yellow Pages are an easy target because Seattle knows exactly who to bill. By example, if you wanted to go after the consumer packaged goods industry for the extraordinary amount of waste they generate, who would you charge? Even better, if you were to try to tax consumer electronics manufacturers for the costs of recycling their often highly toxic waste, who would you tax?   Best Buy? Sony?  Apple?  I doubt the city of Seattle is going to try to pursue companies such as Coke, Hewlett-Packard, or the makers of the cardboard that is in so much of the packaging we buy, even if their contributions to the waste stream (and the city of Seattle’s cost) are orders of magnitudes higher than the impact of directories.

The third factor to consider is that local politicians, like the ring leader in Seattle – Mike O’Brien, see efforts like this as the fast-track to higher political office. When you have such a small vocal group (less than 1% of the population) bugging them on this issue, with the other 99% of people not really involved, you have the perfect platform from which to build name recognition and supposed notable achievements.  Who wouldn’t like a politician that on paper, is bent on saving the world (regardless of the cost) and goes after those nasty corporate giants?  O’Brien is new at the political arena, but he clearly relishes it.  I doubt he expects to stay in Seattle much longer, as the sirens of higher office will begin calling his name.

Had this been purely a green or environmental issue, then the decision-makers in Seattle would have actually paid some attention to the industry’s efforts already underway. For example:

  • Phone books are in fact made from wood chips and recycled paper, not virgin trees, and even some trash purchased from the city.
  • Fewer and fewer phone books are going to the landfills, thanks to community and publisher recycling efforts.
  • Publishers have created websites giving consumers the option to opt-out from receiving a phone book at their address.

While the next steps from the industry are quite clear, specifically litigation which would block this ridiculous effort in Seattle, the industry should take to heart that while this issue is extremely serious, it will survive.

At the recent BIA/Kelsey 2010 DMS conference, several speakers talked about the results of their eco-oriented efforts which yielding some interesting trends:

  • In France, as reduced usage in large metro areas was beginning to occur (as expected — consumers in cities have the shortest distances to go to shop) instead of continuing to distribute a massive multi-county book, the French YP reduced the number of headings in its big city books and took out the B2B headings (which are usually accessed online from work).  Surprise, some interesting trends developed after these changes:
  • Overall usage for the print Yellow Pages leveled off in those city areas, but still at high usage levels –  71% of consumers still used print, and 63% used online.  Obviously both numbers include people that use both.
  • In 2009, of the 30k visitors to their opt-out site (out of a total metro population of about 12 million, or more importantly 0.25% of the population) a total of 47% of the requests were for OPT-IN, while 53% asked to opt-out.  In 2010, the numbers reversed themselves with OPT-IN requests rising to 56% while opt-out dropped to 44%.
  • In Great Britain/UK – for every opt out request they got, 10 others who wanted a book.
  • In the US, DEX indicated it’s opt out rate is running at less than 1%.  For door hangers left at residences confirming they had requested to be left out of the book distribution, 5% actually contacted DEX requesting a book be delivered.

The important take away for anyone directly or indirectly involved in this industry is that we must rally around the effort to stop legislation like the one in Seattle.  A major lawsuit to fight this type of legislation will be a hot news item in many communities throughout this country.  If there is a positive in filing a very public, aggressive lawsuit, the industry will at least have the opportunity to tell its value story.   Given that it has been a long time since the industry had a coordinated promotional program aimed at both advertisers and users, I hope we seize this chance to present our view on the benefits the industry brings, as well as the responsibility it has already taken on it’s own to be good local citizens. Equally important is that each of us must be ready to share the message with the same zeal that the 1% who are opposed to our efforts have in each of our communities, with the people that we socialize with, in the organizations that we volunteer for, and especially when the local media asks for comments.

It’s up to you. I think we’re going to be just fine. But you need to do your part.

RR Donnelley Expands Sustainability Certifications

From a company press release:

R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company (Nasdaq:RRD) announced today that more than 125 of its facilities worldwide have been triple certified to the chain-of-custody standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes.

Materials produced on chain-of-custody certified papers are permitted to carry the respected FSC, SFI and PEFC designations, offering RR Donnelley’s customers another option for reflecting their own sustainability initiatives.

“With certified facilities on four continents RR Donnelley is supporting organizations that promote responsible resource management and use,” said Thomas J. Quinlan III, the company’s Chief Executive Officer. “This triple certification of more than 125 facilities offers our customers in every vertical segment the choice of using chain-of-custody raw materials. As we work to reduce, reuse, and recycle we increase both efficiency and sustainability.”

“Our customers communicate their sustainability practices in a variety of ways and our comprehensive certifications provide another means of reflecting this on the broadest array of printed documents,” commented Michael Manzella, RR Donnelley’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “We consistently find that as we implement more sustainable practices we help to contain costs and reduce waste — improving operational effectiveness as well as significantly enhancing environmental outcomes.”

About RR Donnelley:

RR Donnelley (Nasdaq:RRD) is a global provider of integrated communications. Founded more than 146 years ago, the company works collaboratively with more than 60,000 customers worldwide to develop custom communications solutions that reduce costs, enhance ROI and ensure compliance. Drawing on a range of proprietary and commercially available digital and conventional technologies deployed across four continents, the company employs a suite of leading Internet based capabilities and other resources to provide premedia, printing, logistics and business process outsourcing products and services to leading clients in virtually every private and public sector.

For more information and for RR Donnelley’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report, visit the company’s web site at www.rrdonnelley.com

UniversalBusinessListing.org Adds New Verification Process

From a company press release:

UniversalBusinessListing.org, provider of business identity management and search engine submission services, announced a new verification process for its business listings to increase visibility and credibility of home-based businesses which are often excluded from listings in directories, social networks and search engines. It is expected to improve publisher confidence in valid business profiles over the growing numbers of fraudulent listings.

“Many legitimate businesses are not being found in traditional online directories, because the very definition of what is a legal business has not caught up with technologies, like mobile phones and the Internet, that help a small service or home-based business operate,” said Doyal Bryant, CEO, Name Dynamics, UBL’s parent company. “Many of these ‘micro businesses,’ which often work out of the owner’s house, perhaps as a second business, are real, licensed businesses that want to participate in the online local and hyperlocal marketplace, where consumers can find them.”

Complicating the visibility challenge for micro businesses is the increasing number of fraudulent listings afflicting the search industry. This is particularly troubling for categories such as locksmiths, towing companies and other emergency services, which are experiencing a high number of fake listings created by disreputable marketing companies for lead generation and identity theft purposes.

“Pop-A-Lock and ALOA, the Associated Locksmiths of America, have been very involved in taking all actions possible to make sure that customers are properly educated and get the very best service available,” said Don Marks, CEO, Pop-A-Lock. “UBL’s verification process is a much-needed solution in this current environment where dishonest companies are taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers.”

The UBL verification process includes the largest database available of home-based businesses. Publishers will be assured that these verified businesses are active at their location. UBL already validates all businesses against credit card information and through its partnerships with the databases which feed business listings to the search platforms. The additional verification will check a business identity against the highest level of public and private databases, government filings, and if necessary, direct contact with the business to gather proof of identity. Pilot tests of the most difficult business categories show that over 95 percent of businesses can be verified with the automated methods. See more information at www.UBL.org/Products/Verification.aspx.

UBL verification also includes a check against closed businesses which are often used as fronts for redirection of calls and Web traffic.

Each business listing will be submitted to the search platforms with an indicator of the level of verification confirmed. A “Verified Business” symbol will be made available to businesses and directory publishers to indicate to consumers which businesses have been verified.

About UniversalBusinessListing.org
UniversalBusinessListing.org is a service of Name Dynamics Inc (BBTC.pk). UBL offers search engine and directory submission services, reputation monitoring tools and a variety of premium submission services for improved online visibility and identity management. For more information, visit www.ubl.org/ or connect with UBL on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

 

Seattle City Council Approves Opt-Out Bill 8-1

You local city government now wants to get into regulating what you do or don’t get on your doorstep by taxing selected, designated private industry.  Seattle’s first target – Yellow Pages.

Despite the industry’s best efforts to work with the Seattle City government on using established publisher and industry association systems which allowed residents to freely opt-out (to the tune of over 15,000) of print directories, the Seattle City Council has just approved by a vote of 8 to 1 a new ordinance that has the city establish (perhaps through a third party) their own opt-out list for residents that don’t want to receive a phone book.  Should a resident still receive an unwanted book, the publisher could be fined $125 per incident. To further add more confusion to the process, publishers would have to report the number of books they distribute and pay a 14 cent-per-book “recovery fee” even as publishers acknowledged that the timing is impractical for them to provide such information.  But that’s what happens when a city legislator thinks they know how the publishing business works.

Supports gushed over the green message they think the bill sends with no regard for the impact it has on the small/midsized businesses in their area, or the list of other legal matters is causes.  For example, Maggie Stonecipher, the AVP of Print and Delivery Services for Dex One testified (again) at the hearing that “the ordinance also requires us to turn over information from consumers that have already contacted us. Under our privacy policies, it says we won’t share that information.” That argument fell on deft ears at the Council.

The council lead called it “free market legislation”.  Obviously he has no clue what a free market looks like, because it clearly isn’t one where you single out a single industry that is responsible for less than 1% of the waste stream that the greenies seemed all worried about.  I assume that this “free market” structure that the Seattle City Council wants to impose will now be enforced on the newspaper industry, the bottled beverage industry, the makers of cardboard, electronics manufactures especially PC manufactures, and so on and so on???

Immediately after the vote, which sounded like a love fest between the 8 supporting legislators just oozing over how hard they had worked on this legislation (isn’t that what they are suppose to do?) the Yellow Pages Association released this statement from Neg Norton, President of the Yellow Pages Association:

“We respect the city’s desire to reduce waste and are disappointed that our extensive efforts to work with the Council to address consumer choice in a fair and efficient way were overlooked today.

We agree that a streamlined approach to consumer choice makes the most sense, which is why Yellow Pages companies have committed to upgrading our existing site, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, so consumers across the country can visit a single, centralized hub to manage the delivery of phone books. Another new site, run by the city, will undoubtedly create more waste by duplicating efforts already underway and complicate logistics for publishers working to honor delivery requests.

We have never believed it makes sense to deliver a directory to someone who doesn’t want one.  Seattle residents need not wait until the city can develop its own site to stop delivery.  Residents can visit www.yellowpagesoptout.com today to find information about stopping delivery of the phone books they no longer wish to receive.

We believe the ordinance, as passed, will not hold up under legal challenge.  As an industry, we are committed to reducing the number of unwanted yellow pages directories. We must, however, ensure that our members’ rights are respected and oppose any attempts to single out the yellow pages industry with disparate regulatory and financial treatment, including discriminatory license fees and advance recovery fees not applied to competing media and non-media sources of paper. The industry also opposes any provisions that compel our members to promote a duplicative, city-run program through mandatory notices on the covers of their directories…”

Seattle residents, get your check book out.  From here, the industry’s next step is clear – the mother of all lawsuits that they will win, the cost of which your dear city will have to bear.

What a shame.  It didn’t have to be this way.  A working process was already up and running.  But that wasn’t enough for the greenies.  Someone in big business had to be punished no matter the costs or the impact…