17 November 2008

Death of Print 2: Sensis and the final days of the phone book.

When did you last use the print edition of a phone directory?

In Australia the first directory was on a single sheet and listed just 44 numbers, now more than 100 years later it’s still in print but looks likely to go the way of the rotary dial phone. Here’s a couple of recent and related events that suggest publisher Sensis needs to prepare for the inevitable:

• Print company PMP’s contract with Sensis for production of Australian White Pages and Yellow Page directories expires on 30 June 2009;
• A new GPY&R Yellow campaign for Yellow Pages announces the release of a handy sized print version for use in the car;
Google and Telstra subsidiary Sensis announce they have signed a deal to integrate the data from Yellow Pages business listings into Google Maps Australia;
• Total worldwide smart phone shipments hit new peak of 39.9 million in Q3 2008 while in Europe almost 40% are GPS enabled. In Australia, 3m will ship constituting 30% of all mobile phone sales.
• Google announce a new iPhone application that runs a voice translation service which enables users to speak and ask for the name of a service or store near their location and have it sent to their phones.

According to Sensis, its Yellow Pages print version does AUD$1 billion in advertising annually and the Yellow Pages Online a further $100 million. Last year more than nine million print copies of its White Pages were distributed in Australia with Sensis claiming a 99% penetration rate into Australian households. But the events above threaten these brands’ relevance and could convey them to the dustbin of history.

The long decline in landline connections can be linked to falls in use of both print editions. In February Sensis parent Telstra announced, somewhat half heartedly, that it had arrested some of the decline in its fixed line services. In fact, the decline was just 2.1 % against a 2.5 % decline in the previous six months to June, the annual decline still around four or five per cent.

But there maybe something more significant going on with Sensis’ so-called Yellow and White Pages Networks, with both registering significant online declines in viewership this year. Alexa data puts Yellowpages.com.au views of its online edition down a massive 10% for the last quarter and Whitepages.com.au down 3%. This contrasts with White Pages’ claim in March it was number one for business search and Yelllow Pages announcement in November that more 11 million Australians used its service every month.

While competitive intelligence service Hitwise’s latest figures has White Pages with an increased market share of 10.89% for the same period but this is only 0.19% of all use across the entire online market with Google’s Australian operation dominating the market with 8.38%. White Pages is not even a top 20 site in Australia. Similarly, Hitwise has Yellow Pages increase market share by 7.25% for the period for a total share of only 0.11%. Up against Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, it is a minnow.

Sensis’ deal with Google Australia seems to at least acknowledge that its market share is close to a fiction and it needs to better position its brand to take advantage of the much anticipated growth in location-based services coming from the explosion in smart phone use.

By year’s end around three million smart phones will have shipped in Australia, most with built-in GPS such as the iPhone and Nokia Navigator. Portable navigation devices like Mio and TomTom, primarily used in cars, seem already to have been sidelined as carmakers increasingly include it as standard and users opt for more personal technologies. Already Nokia is the third largest provider of mobile navigation across all platforms in Europe. In this scenario, the release of the new Sensis Yellow Pages directory for car use seems both archaic and a folly.

Sensis says 25% of all phone books don’t get recycled but end up as doorstops or propping up computers. Perhaps these users are the only demographic that’s going to find it hard to lose the phone book. Regardless, PMP might want to check its contract when it comes up next year. My feeling is Sensis is losing its way and needs a better strategy that increases relevance, brand visibility and usability for a complete multiplatform environment, otherwise it might see more of its brands (think Trading Post!) analogous to a doorstop.

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Nathan Bush said...

ahhhh... finally. great news for the environment. And great news for Clems (http://www.bandt.com.au/news/D4/0C05BFD4.asp) - will be a tricky account in the transition stage but a lot of fun to be had with a more focused product offering. In these latter years of phone books I always wondered why it wasn't a subscription model so only those who need them received them. The numbers won't look as good for the advertising sales team but will reduce printing costs, wastage and the environment.

Ash said...

I last used a printed Yellow Pages directory two weeks ago when I was in a hotel. I almost always use one when travelling because it is less biased than looking at the list of local restaurants in the hotel's propaganda.

Whether printed or online, the YPs are much better than using Google, which favours sites that are SEO'd. Do a search for downtown Melbourne restaurants in the YP and then do one in Google. Which is more comprehensive?

Steve@Sensis said...

You would be hard pressed to find a business in Australia that is more multi-channel than Sensis and in particular, our Yellow and White Pages directory businesses.

Media consumption is fragmenting. That’s common knowledge. For Sensis, which is in the business of connecting buyers and sellers, we recognise buyers are searching for businesses in enormous numbers, across a multitude of services and channels.

So delivering advertiser value isn’t a question of ‘print vs online’. Local search businesses need to help advertisers reach out through print AND online AND voice AND mobile AND sat nav.
If you want to deliver real advertiser value, you need to take advertisers out to where the buyers are – not where you’d like them to be.

Yellow print directories are as strong as ever. At the same time, we’ve networked Yellow advertisers so that with one ad, they can potentially be found by millions more buyers across online (including search engines), voice, sat nav and mobile.

According to Roy Morgan:
• 7 million Australians use the main Yellow print directories every month;
• 4 million use the Yellow Local directories;
• 3 million new Yellow in the Car directories are being distributed across Melbourne and Sydney (Sensis distribution data). Yellow In the Car makes Yellow more accessible to buyers by giving them a directory they can take on the road with them.

And, as a result of this network approach, Yellow advertising is automatically syndicated to:
• 1.5 million monthly users of our 1234 and Call Connect voice services;
• Several hundred thousand users a month of our Yellow Mobile and Whereis Mobile sites (mobile usage has tripled in just a year);
• 1.5 million users of Whereis satellite navigation content a month (selected headings only)
• 3.7 million online users a month through www.yellowpages.com.au and www.whereis.com. Opening up our Yellow listings so they can be crawled by search engines has delivered about 1 million incremental searches a month to Yellow Online, which is currently enjoying record usage.
• And our recent partnerships with Ninemsn and Google Maps mean that, by early next year, Yellow advertisers will be accessible by the 2.7m users of those services a month.

Blogs like this one, with its dramatic headline might build drama and tension, but they don’t do a good job of reflecting reality. There is no such thing as one channel fits all in local search. Pretending there is only leads to half-baked solutions for both buyers and sellers.

In response to other claims:
• Sensis’ contract with PMP for directory printing – as you would expect with most supply contracts pertaining to core business, it will be replaced with a new contract.
• Sensis and Google’s recent agreement – for a simple outline of this win-win agreement, go to http://www.speakingsensis.com.au
• Increase in smart phone sales – Sensis is one of Australia’s pioneers when it comes to making useful, relevant contact available from your mobile. Yellow Mobile is a prime example – go to www.yellowpages.com.au on your mobile
• Relevance of White Pages – 10 million Australians access the White Pages network each month.
• Decline in landline connections – businesses and consumers still use phones and the Yellow and White Pages offer a lot more than just phone numbers ie web addresses, email addresses, street addresses. And we’ve also just added Mobile Codes.
• Online usage – Alexa is not a representative source. www.yellowpages.com.au just achieved its fourth successive month of record traffic, more than 5 million visits, more than 3 million users (Sensis web logs).

Jack said...

I agree with Steve. I been in this online yellowpages business for more than 3 years now. And I do consultant work for some of the big yp sites in Aus & india. I'm witnessed more than 3 Fold increase YOY in this market space. The Local commerce and SME has its huge potential if we able to tie the user needs with the Advertising/revenue model.