I predict that by 2020 we won’t have printed phone books. Or newspapers for that matter but this post isn’t about newspapers. It’s about phone books.

We had a new phone book delivered to the house yesterday.  My 10-year-old son who loves books and has read over 1000 pages in a single weekend picked it up and gaped at it huge size. “What’s this? he asked with eyes big as saucers. I know he has seen them before.  I think so anyway. Pretty sure…

Then I started thinking about it, when is the last time I picked up a phone book with the intention of finding a phone number?  I honestly can’t remember but I’m sure it was years ago.  And then I got to thinking about how digital technology is killing many aspects of the print industry.  Newspaper, magazines, and phone books… the list goes on. Phone book companies for the most part have done a good job transitioning to the digital age.  I can’t wait until you only see phone books in museums and movies.

Having once managed the Internet department for Phone Directories Company, I know a little more about phone books than most people.  And it’s interesting to watch a company whose medium is passing try to figure out how to convert their old model to a new model. Some make it, some don’t.

And of course this just ties in with SEO.  It’s just not enough to call up your phone book company and buy a $3000 listing and expect to see some traffic to your business from it.  Now you have to optimize, localize, fine tune, design, redesign, maintain, and regularly update your digital presence.  And it’s funny, you find a company who used to spend anywhere from $5000-$15000 every year for their half page ad and they can’t justify spending the same for someone to manage their digital presence.  Then at the same time, they still pump that budget into the old dying medium knowing that it’s dying and not expecting but somehow hoping that they’ll continue to see an ROI like they would have 10 years ago.  It just doesn’t happen.

There are a few that get it.  They’re exploring new media and trying new things.  These will be the companies that grow and dominate the local markets over the next 10 years.  I went to a social networking event called a swarm last week organized by a little Hawaiian BBQ place that I never would have heard of.  If you’re on foursquare you probably know what a swarm is.  We tried for it but fell short of the required 50 attendees to get our badge. But it was a great experience for me as an internet professional.  It was an even better experience for Pounders Hawaiin Grill.  The place was packed.  I don’t think they could have handled the 50 people we were hoping for.

Now how much did they spend on this marketing? Nothing. Except for the time of one employee to get on Foursquare and do a little networking.  Now it might be a little more complicated than a traditional phone book ad. But not much.  And then let’s talk about the ROI.  How could the phone book ever compete?