May 13, 2007

Future of Electronic Publishing

Speaking at conference today organised by Amdocs - which provides software and consulting for directory publishers.

Big questions about long term future of the Yellow Pages industry which has been (and remains) very profitable in many countries. Pressures from:

Movement of many to online search and mobile, geography sensitive information.
Fact that most small businesses in places like America now have own web pages
Dramatic growth of e-Bay and other community trading sites which are brilliant places for people to go to find local products - and maybe services as well in future
Lack of trust in advertising compared to community reviews by previous customers
Possible ban on sending paper directories to homes of people who do not specifically request them
Competition from tens of thousands of small companies who are also offering help with web promotion to small companies

Question: if directories did not exist, would they be a good business to start up?

Possible scenario

•Google Local starts to dominate with help from local partners
•Formal directories decline except for niche markets eg small town, associations where information does not change / not online or specialist business lists
•Huge shakeout where there is more than one paper directory supplier in same area
•EU nations ban delivery of non-requested paper directories
•Year on year fall in revenue for paper directory suppliers
•Mobile interactive marketing takes off – “just in time”
•Directory enquiry services broaden to include direct sales
•50 billion new web pages and indexes created
•E-Bay and other communities create “living” directories
•Every webmaster adds postal code etc to every web page - maybe in a new widely used meta tag at the top of every page
•Web page builders become obsessed with location
•Google then able to improve search - dumps Google Local / and partnership with most directories

The greatest asset that directory companies have is huge numbers of small business clients and large sales teams who have a personal relationship with them, often over years. This presents a great opportunity for selling new kinds of products and services which could be based on web marketing but could also include a range of other things from insurance to office supplies.