The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here? Do we really care anymore?

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This article was published 2/6/2010 (4126 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here? Do we really care anymore?

The white pages and yellow pages phone directories started arriving on doorsteps around Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago, just as they have for the past century or so, but it's difficult to imagine many people getting as excited as Steve Martin's character did in The Jerk when his new phone book arrived.

These days, an increasing number of people can't be bothered to lug the white or yellow pages out of the drawer and instead let their fingers do the clicking for phone numbers on their computers or stored in their wireless devices. The yellow pages have long been a profitable advertising medium for telephone and publishing companies but the growth of online search engines is rendering them obsolete, according to Eamon Hoey, a Toronto-based telecommunications analyst.

"It's just a matter of time until it no longer makes financial sense and it will stop being published. The paper (books) are dying, without a doubt," he said, adding phone book delivery could be a thing of the past within five years. Hoey said the sooner baby boomers improve their computer literacy, the quicker phone books will join rotary dial phones in museums.

"The younger generation doesn't know where the yellow pages is in their office, let alone at home. They're more inclined to point and click. But my mother-in-law, who's in her 80s, I can tell you where the yellow pages is in her house," he said.

MTS Allstream saw the writing on the wall and got out of the publishing game in 2006, selling its directories business to Montreal-based Yellow Pages Group (YPG), Canada's leading provider of print and online directories, for $281 million.

Perry Schwartz, senior manager of communications for YPG, which publishes 11 white and yellow pages directories in Manitoba, said the short-term outlook for physical phone books remains "very viable. There may come a day where the distribution cycle changes. Right now, we deliver you one every year. We might lengthen it. Maybe we don't need to deliver them once a year," he said. In fact, the delivery of residential directories in a number of large Canadian markets, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal is now on a two-year cycle. Between two per cent and five per cent of the normal run of white pages in Toronto have been printed this year. Traditionally, the book was delivered to more than one million households but this year only 1,000 people called in to request one.

"We're finding the (residential) data doesn't change that much in 24 months. Winnipeg is not on that list but it's certainly something that we're looking at as time goes on," Schwartz said.

He said the data changes more frequently on the yellow pages side as companies start, move and go out of business much more frequently than local residents move around.

"In many ways, we are the only way that small businesses can advertise to consumers. But if we see there's no longer a need to send the directory out in a printed version in the way it looks today, we may just send out categories with frequent changes, such as automobiles and pizza," he said.

Hoey said he wouldn't want to be a shareholder of the current YPG business model, which he considers "a dying stock."

"They may be able to recover their revenues by going electronic but typically electronic revenues are never as high as they were in the old world," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca