Yahoo, Verizon Let Fingers Do the Walking

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. ( TheStreet) -- Decades before "local search" was a term associated with Google ( GOOG) and Yahoo ( YHOO), the Yellow Pages have been a go-to source of advertising for small businesses and information for local customers.

These days, more of the plastic-wrapped print publications tend to lie dormant on front porches while computer screens flicker inside. The Yellow Pages industry realizes this and is working to associate the brand with small-business Web searches.

"Ten years ago, the market for local search was defined by the printed Yellow Pages, and that's not true today," says Neg Norton, president of the Yellow Pages Association, the trade group that represents Yellow Pages publishers, an industry worth more than $31 billion worldwide and $14 billion in the U.S.

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There are still some 200 companies that print Yellow Pages directories, Norton says. The several iterations of the Yellow Pages in the U.S. include the R.H. Donnelley ( RHD) Dex, the AT&T ( T) Real Pages and the Superpages from Verizon ( VZ) spinoff Idearc, which stopped trading on the New York Stock Exchange last winter and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the spring. This year, 39% of customers looking for business phone numbers used the Yellow Pages, down from 46% in 2005, according to data from Wiese Research Associates.

"I don't think any of our companies have their head in the sand," Norton says. "We're seeing more than an erosion in printed Yellow Pages."

To that end, the Yellow Pages Association is steering members toward the tools of the day: mobile devices, social networking and location-based Internet searches. (In addition to its printed directory business, AT&T also owns Yellowpages.com. Dex and Superpages also have an online presence.)

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