print yellow pages rapidly shrinking

The once lucrative yellow pages print directory business is shrinking quickly in Northern Virginia. Some simple measurements and calculations indicate that the 2010 yellowbook yellow pages listing  and advertising volume has shrunk more than 33% over the past year.

The shrinkage this year seems to have been designed to be less obvious than the shrinkage last year.  The number of yellow pages this year (1062) is only 9% less than the number of yellow pages last year (1162).  This year’s yellowbook lacks the coupon section that took up 28 pages in last year’s directory and also does not have any thick paper advertising pages (last year had two). Making up for that reduction in thickness was an 80% increase in white pages from 260 pages in the 2009 book to 468 pages in the 2010 book.  The net effect of these changes was to make the 2010 yellowbook the same thickness as the 2009 yellowbook.

Changes in page size and print size allowed the yellowbook to retain its thickness.  The page area in the 2010 yellowbook is 15% smaller than in the 2009 yellowbook. Block advertisements, e.g. a two column, quarter page advertisement, were reduced in size proportionally.  However, the print size for a plain listing (business name, address, telephone number) was increased an estimated 36% in the yellow pages and 103% in the white pages.  Ignoring block advertisements and computing equivalent pages as the number of listing that would fit on a 2009 page, then the number of equivalent yellow pages fell 33% from the 2009 book to the 2010 book.  If block advertisement space had the same proportion to plain listing space in 2010 as it did in 2009, then a 33% decline also estimates the reduction in yellow page space including block advertisements.  Comparing the two books indicates that the number and size of block advertisements (relative to page size) has decreased significantly.  Hence over-all listing and advertising volume in the 2010 yellow pages has decreased more than 33% relative to the 2009 volume.

The extent of obfuscation traditionally associated with advertising is second only to that in filings before government regulatory agencies. Nonetheless, trends in the advertising industry point to the growing business success of advertising that emphasizes accountability.

Data: measurements and calculations comparing the 2010 yellowbook to the 2009 yellowbook (Excel version).

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