Back in July, I wrote a piece about the yellow pages for a series on things that are disappearing in America. That article brought a fair amount of criticism from industry insiders who said the business was thriving, and that if you include usage of online yellow pages, the business was actually growing. There were some business owners who said the yellow pages were vital to them. And there were plenty of us who said we have no use for the book (or the online yellow pages, for that matter).

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal supports my theory that the yellow pages business is dying a slow and painful death. When it became clear that the Internet was capturing some of their former users, the publishers of the directories started creating online yellow pages. That helped some, but apparently not enough.

One analyst says that spending on advertising in the print and online versions of the yellow pages will fall over 6% next year. That's twice as much as the expected decline in television advertising. The spending in the printed directories is expected to fall 39% over the next four years. Ouch.
For those businesses that find the yellow pages invaluable, I encourage them to keep advertising there as long as it makes sense. Track your sales from the yellow pages so you know for sure if your investment is paying off.

For consumers who couldn't do without the yellow pages, keep using the book. But understand that as advertisers stop putting ads in the book, you might be missing out on products and services from very good businesses. I know that not everyone has access to the Internet, but for those that do, they'd do well to search online for their needs.

The fact remains that there is much more to be found about businesses on the Internet than a print or online phone directory can provide. I'd much rather use Google to find a business, knowing that I'm likely to find more than just the phone number and address. I'll probably get a map to the business, a link to its site so I can find out more before calling, maybe some reviews of the company, and other bits of information on the company. Why would I ever go back to the yellow pages, either in hard copy or online?

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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