Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

The other day, my building received its annual dump o' Yellow Books. On the half year, we used to get a double allotment of Verizon Yellow Pages, but I'm not even sure they exist anymore.

In any case, the tomes come in a difficult to open, impossible to lift, shrink-wrapped clump, and are left on the front steps, I'm sure by forklift. For whatever reason, the task of taking the Yellow Books off the steps and bringing them into the vestibule of our building has fallen to me and my husband. Since we can't lift the entire thing at once, we wrestle the package open and bring the books inside, two-by-two. Occasionally, the package has already been broken open, which makes our task the more urgent. It's January in Boston, and if rain, snow, sleet, and hail hit the books, they'll turn into papier mache or, worse, cement.

Once inside, the books sit there for a couple of weeks, ignored by everyone in the building.

I then put them in my recycle box, and away they go to be recycled so that they can be turned into next year's Yellow Books.

Is it any wonder that I turn an annual jaundiced eye to the delivery of the not-so-good books?

Some years I actually replace my old copy, but I never look at it. Deep down inside I must harbor a belief that every home needs a Yellow Pages. A vestigial belief, harkening back to the day when people really used Yellow Pages or Yellow Books or whatever they're called.

And there was such a day. I remember it well. You wanted to know where the nearest dry cleaner or florist or Indian restaurant was, you could look through the Yellow Pages and find it. They even had a nifty little jingle: "Let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages." This type of search has been largely replaced by the Internet. Or has it?

Yesterday, I was ranting to my friend (and fellow Opinionated Marketer) John Whiteside about the above mentioned books. John's eminently sensible suggestion to the publishers is that at minimum they come up with some sort of "opt out" mechanism to save all those yellow trees. But, of course, we decided that this wouldn't help the publishers get advertisers. (I can hear the pitch now, "Only 83% of the residents on Beacon Hill chose to opt out.")

They could also affix a sticker to the package, with an 800 number to call if you wanted the books picked up. Presumably, the publisher would have some use for them, other than recycling.

As our conversation continued about the utility of the Yellow Books, John mentioned that he does use them, and that, for a number of reasons, the print version is better than the Internet.

Since I use neither, this led us to conclude that because I have lived in my neighborhood for a long time, I really don't have much need for the Yellow Pages. I know where the butcher-baker-florist-hardware store-shoe repair guy are already. Plus, I live in a densely populated urban area. I walk around. I know when a new Indian restaurant opens up.

John, while also in an urban neighborhood, is relatively new to his 'hood. Thus he uses the yellows to find things. He gives especially high marks to the smaller, more localized editions that are just your area. A good message for potential advertisers, I'd say.

John also warned me that the online yellows weren't all that easy to use, and the results just weren't as good in his experience.

Off the phone, I decided to do a tiny experiment.

Yellow Book in hand, I looked up florist. There were pages of them, but in short order I could scan the list and find the one closest to me. Along the way, I discovered that Stop & Shop (local grocery chain) considers itself a florist. Hmmmmm. Life is full of little surprises.

Online, I entered my zip and "florist" and got a list pretty quickly. But since only a few appeared on the page, it was harder to navigate and find the closest one. It was much easier to skim the written word. (Plus I think that the first one that came up online is one of those bogus florists that put a "real" local address and phone number in a listing, but are actually a call center that takes your info and places your order with a real local florist - while charging your a hefty surcharge. I walk by the address of the phoney florist every day, and there's never been a florist there as far as I know. The phone number is no longer in service, either. The florist scam has nothing to do with the listing - the same non-florist is in the paper version. I just found it interesting that the first florist up was a dud.)

I then tried to find an Indian restaurant. While neither book nor online had a separate sort for Indian restaurant it was, again, far easier to skim the listings in the book than page through the on-line information.

Of course, when I put my inquiries to the Google test, putting in florist + zip, and Indian restaurant + zip, the results were quick and correct. Google wins!

So, in my decidedly unscientific survey: if you want to find info fast, Google it. But if you're going to go by the Yellow Book, let your fingers do the walking the old fashioned way. Paper covers online!

No comments: