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Yellow Pages to re-evaluate demand for home delivery of directory

Julien Billot, president and CEO of Yellow Pages Group Corp., says he doesn’t yet foresee a day when Yellow Pages will be purely digital.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The Yellow Pages directory, once a fixture that landed on nearly every doorstep, will be a less familiar sight in many Canadian communities this year as the company plans to scale back home delivery.

The first residents to see a change will be Ontarians in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville, Yellow Pages Ltd. said Monday. The company is not scrapping home delivery altogether. Rather, it is targeting particular streets and neighbourhoods where few residents are thought to use the print directory, which many now see as an anachronism supplanted by Internet listings.

For years, the popularity of print phone books has been declining, and Monday's announcement will make the hefty yellow and white tomes increasingly scarce. But the physical directories are unlikely to disappear entirely any time soon, even with the company pushing a rapid digital transition, as many businesses and rural customers still browse the pages of the book rather than on a computer screen or smartphone.

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Yellow Pages operates in more than 300 markets across Canada, and home delivery will be re-evaluated in each of them.

"There will be some that probably won't be touched at all because usage is still very high in them," said Fiona Story, director of public relations for Yellow Pages. "Saskatchewan, Manitoba – those provinces in general have very high usage of the directory, so [delivery changes] will be very targeted in that case."

Print is still an important business for Yellow Pages: About 30 per cent of businesses that advertise with the company do so only in print, while 60 per cent combine print and digital listings, and only 10 per cent buy digital-only.

But that is changing. More than 70 per cent of new Yellow Pages customers are buying space only on digital platforms, which include YellowPages.ca and Canada411.ca, as well as a YP app. The company aims to have half of businesses advertising only in digital form by 2018.

The revenue Yellow Pages earns from a print or digital ad is roughly the same, but each medium has its advantages. Digital ads are "evergreen," whereas print ads need to be re-sold annually, said president and CEO Julien Billot. Yet some customers still find the print books easier to browse.

"We try to adjust to what people want," Mr. Billot said in an interview, but he doesn't yet foresee a day when Yellow Pages will be purely digital. "If you want a book, you have a book. We're not stopping producing the book."

The company is relying on data, gathered internally and from Environics Research Group, to target areas down to individual streets to halt home delivery. The company will still make the books available at newspaper-style, street-side boxes and in racks at some businesses such as pharmacies and supermarkets. And residents can still call and request that delivery be resumed at their address.

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Businesses have also been making the digital switch, but Sharlene Plewman, executive director of the Downtown Oakville Business Improvement Area, still expects to hear complaints from some owners, particularly at smaller businesses.

"I think there will be some stores that will still wish there was a listing provided to customers on paper," she said. "They understand that there is a population that has not moved digital."

Aimee Davison, a Montreal Web producer who co-founded Yellow Page Mountain a few years ago as an initiative to stop unwanted phone-book delivery, believes "more people could and should opt out," partly for environmental reasons. But YP's Ms. Story said the books are now made with recycled materials and no trees are cut to produce them, so the change is "really about making sure that we're distributing in an efficient way."

For the first time, Yellow Pages is having to work hard to raise its profile against new online competitors such as Google Inc. In 2012, YP spent about $2-million on marketing and ad campaigns. Now, it spends $25-million annually to reshape its image.

Inside the company, Mr. Billot is trying to craft the ethos of a digital startup, while still fighting to keep the print product alive and relevant.

"It's a bit schizophrenic," he said in an interview last fall.

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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