February 10, 2005

Newspapers and Yellow Pages provide different kinds of information to their readers/users, but both are predominantly print publications with a long history and they generate the vast majority of their revenues from advertising. As print media, they both enjoyed near monopolistic positions in their communities, and they both do an excellent job of providing accurate information. However, neither media has been successful in large-scale cooperation to generate online revenues.

For the last decade or so they have struggled to maintain their positions in the wake of changing retail environment, competitive media and new technologies. Most of the major newspaper and Yellow Pages publishers have protected their cash cow and failed to make significant investments to position themselves for the future. “I sometimes think we have not fully come to terms with the degree to which we need to undergo transformational change in order to be in a defensible position for the next five to 20 years,” Tom Mohr, president of Knight-Ridder Digital and formerly vice president of classifieds for Knight-Ridder, told a newspaper conference recently.

Anyone reading this could recognize that this could just as well be an executive in the Yellow Pages business as one in the newspaper arena. Publishers can do little about economic disruption or changing market conditions, but they can do a number of things to position themselves for the future. Most importantly Yellow Pages publishers must recognize that they cannot compete in a digital world without a truly competitive product. That will require a level of cooperation not yet demonstrated by publishers.

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