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 directory 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 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 percent.

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.

You can pickup chart links directly from Alexa.com.They refer to page views and are for the past year.