The death of printed directories has been forecast for some time now but despite these predictions they have steadfastly refused to go away. Every year without fail a new and generally thinner product gets delivered to your doorstep. Increasingly however it gets moved straight to the recycling bin as fewer and fewer people rely on them to find products and services.
In fact with Google currently quoting the statistic that “94% of smartphone users have looked for local information” it proves beyond a doubt that the value proposition of directories has finally been destroyed. After all, who carries a paper directory with them when they leave the house other than reps selling advertising in them?
Imagine therefore my surprise when I received a letter from BT this week about our classified listing in the Phone Book. It told me that we were going to be included in the next edition as usual however they then added
“..normally there is a charge of £36.86 per quarter (ex VAT) for this service, but in recognition of your loyalty we are waiving this charge for the next edition of your Phone Book.”
A couple or fairly obvious points jump out at me here as I’m sure they do for you as well. Firstly, when has the ‘Free Line Entry’ in a Phone Book ever been anything other than free? Just because you add in a theoretical charge for it of £179.60 a year doesn’t change the fact that no one has ever paid for their free entry.
The clue is in the name BT and suddenly springing a charge on unsuspecting business owners around the country doesn’t change this fact.
Secondly please don’t confuse me with a ‘loyal’ customer as I’m nothing of the sort. Our entry in your product is only there because it is free. The second it becomes something I have to pay for is the moment you would see my loyalty disappearing over the horizon. Also I’d be more inclined to be a loyal customer if you spelt my Company name correctly…
Thirdly, we know that you are relying on decision makers ignoring this letter and that in twelve months’ time you can start to apply your quarterly charge automatically in the hope that they don’t notice it. But if this is supposed to be a clever marketing strategy it shows that you have rocks in your head.
Yes, we appreciate that it costs money to print and produce the Phone Book but adding in useful information such as the classified entries at least gives you a chance that someone might just pick it up. Let’s face it virtually no one uses it to look up domestic phone numbers any more. But springing the charge on unsuspecting business owners simply leads to one inevitable result; the death of your product.
When Google dominates the search market in the UK and most people are now using electronic media to search, this move will just hasten your demise. Not only are you alienating the one group of people who might have the funds to prop up your printed product but if businesses opt out you are destroying the only other asset you have.
In this day and age, the one currency which still carries any weight is data and the providers of telephone directories used to have this in abundance. At least with free entries in your Phone Book you have some idea of the businesses currently trading in the UK.
Of course those publishers that managed to sell off this asset back in the 90’s or early 2000’s as it was ‘non core’ are left looking foolish today.
The reality is that we have never had a customer call from the Phone Book, either in its printed or electronic form. And for that reason alone we will be doing what many businesses do I expect and removing our entry altogether. And with fewer businesses appearing in your pages your product simply become even more irrelevant than it already was.
So, anyone who has predicted that the printed telephone directory might be dead before 2020, it turns out you could be right. But I bet you never thought it would commit suicide?