"Everything which would ordinarily go into the waste paper basket after use"

The Yellow Pages

The Yellow Pages

I finally found this year’s Yellow Pages directory buried beneath a pile of (unread) magazines and newspapers. I’m not sure how long it had been there but, by analysing the layers of print deposits, it is possible to reconstruct a timeline. I estimate it was delivered and died some time around March this year and has since lain undiscovered. That says everything about how often I need the Yellow Pages these days.

I’ve written about the White Pages previously; the Yellow Pages directory is its smaller, more colourful sibling. Together, they are among the biggest, most obvious examples of the waning of print as a mass communications medium in favour of online platforms. Once upon a time, Yellow Pages ruled the roost when it came to small business marketing. It practically set its own terms. Any small business which missed out on its Yellow Pages listing faced the prospect of becoming invisible, and possibly extinct. Not any more. There are other ways of being found now.

Earlier this year, the publisher of both directories, Sensis, signalled its intention to move away from an ‘an outdated print-based model’ and focus more on digital marketing. As a result, PMP, which currently holds the contract to print both volumes, has closed down its directories printing plant at Chullora in Sydney.

So what we are looking at here is an endangered print species – the information and search directory – albeit one which, as recently as 2011, had a circulation of over 1.5 million copies in Sydney alone. It’s still a big beast but wounded now, perhaps fatally. The pages feel hollowed out, large areas greyed out, particularly in the locality guides. And that’s despite the fact that it now comes in a smaller format of less than 900 pages, a far cry from its glory days when it was big enough to require two fat volumes.

Of course, the irony here is that the current Yellow Pages is a highly-evolved specimen of print; not so much reduced as refined. It is environmentally sensitive; carbon neutral, recyclable, sourced from managed forests. The colour print is laudable, particularly given what it is printed on and the speed at which it is produced. It tries really, really hard to be friendly and community-minded. And, you know, when I sat down to read this edition (not cover to cover – hey, I do have a life) I actually learnt something interesting about the place where I live.

Unfortunately it wasn’t how to find a decent plumber (still searching for that one).

shredded paper

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