Recently I was meeting with an owner of a Auto Repair facility who had just signed an annual agreement with a yellow pages publisher. Her package included a nice quarter page ad in the print edition, an online listing, and a website. The website was the reason for our meeting. Their site was so bad, poor design, few call to action elements, little information that was actually helpful to the shop’s potential customers. This is a trend in phone book world, where the print edition is obviously a declining form of advertising (down about 10% a year if you believe the Local Search Association, the former Yellow Pages Association).  So, the publishers are scrambling to right their formerly lucrative business model from print to online.  And small businesses are the ones paying the price for their “Lessons Learned.”

What would have made me fall out of my chair, had I been sitting in one, was when the Auto shop owner hit me with this,

“They own the yellow pages and in 10 years we’ll still be paying them because they own the internet.”

Did she really have the impression that the phone book guys control the internet?  The snake oil salesman, now representing the phone book publisher, obviously did a fine job of convincing her they do own it.

Bad web sites and high prices. This all made sense now.  As I was browsing the internet, I had seen a huge increase in UGLY, POORLY designed sites, PROUDLY displaying the phone company, or phone book publisher logo.  The phone book is changing their strategy from print to online advertising, but their goal is still the same, charge excessively for little value in return.

The bottom line here is this.  Based on the conversations we’ve had, Small Business Owners have always hated paying the phone book guys for little ROI.  But they felt they had to because the phone book held the cards.

The game is changing – check that, has changed – and the phone book companies have not built goodwill with high prices and bad quality.

There are NEW players.  Google, Yahoo!, Bing and web marketing companies that help you market your business online.  In general, they offer more affordable web design and services and the quality is much better than the churn and burn phone book guys.