Print yellow pages are dying, no one is using them — right? Listen to Dick Larkin talk and you’ll hear a different story. He’s now the EVP of sales for American Marketing & Publishing, which publishes HomePages a mostly print yellow pages offering in six adjoining Midwestern states.
Larkin told me that the company has been growing like crazy and now has 350 titles and will be adding 50 more this year. He said they publish in towns that generally don’t exceed 40K residents.
We were discussing the company’s online products and Larkin was saying it was hard to make the economics work because the cost of print is generally reasonable and it’s working well, while online doesn’t deliver enough volume with enough precision to make a great deal of sense at this stage.
While there’s considerable Internet penetration in Larkin’s regions there apparently isn’t a ton of “hyper-local” search volume for HomePages. In addition the targeting at this stage doesn’t allow for the precision necessary in these communities (it’s coming and certainly present in mobile). That means there isn’t a ton of money to be made. He also said, somewhat paradoxically, that many of the company’s advertisers are small and used the example of a roofer who can only do 15 or so jobs in a year. For both the publisher in this case and the service provider a PPC product doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Larkin is looking at bundles, like counterparts at larger publisher organizations. But he’s also actively considering mobile and other options. Mobile is potentially compelling because it interacts with print in ways that the Internet can’t.
I used the example with Larkin of the “advantages of economic backwardness,” wherein a laggard can jump to the state of the art without the legacy infrastructure to worry about. While these territories aren’t economically backward there’s a kind of freedom to embrace something like mobile because there isn’t a huge investment in Internet products and the world is now ready for mobile marketing.
What’s fascinating to me about this discussion more broadly is the way that it reveals the market’s complexity. All the facile assumptions about print vs. online and so on are confounded by Larkin’s company, which in fact grew during the recession.