I remember as a kid in rural Canada, we had a “party” telephone line at home. Not nearly as fun as it might sound, this literally meant that we shared a telephone line with our neighbours and it was a daily battle with not only one’s family but also with several other households just to make a phone call. (Those of you who hail from cow towns know exactly what I’m talking about).
Winter evenings in the countryside weren’t particularly eventful, unless it stormed or the power went out…so it wasn’t uncommon for my siblings and I to carefully pick up the phone, furiously clasp our hands over the mouthpiece and eavesdrop on the conversations of our neighbours, giggling less about what we were hearing and more about our blatant, and secret invasion of their privacy. Eventually these would end with our neighbours catching on, yelling at us to get off the line and taking our behaviour up with our mother the next time they crossed paths at the grocery store.
And no, it wasn’t the 1950s, but the 1990s.
In the last 20 years, our communications methods with our friends, families and neighbours have changed more than in the last century. Forget abandoning just party lines, but household telephone lines all together, with a growing number of Canadians discontinuing home phone lines in favour of mobile devices. As a result, the way we find and keep personal contact info has also changed.
Like any company, we regularly monitor the use of our products. Who’s using it, how are they using it, how many people are using it, etc. When our research started showing a widening gap between print usage to find goods and services and print usage to find personal contacts, we had to take a hard look at the residential phone directory aka the “white pages”. With less than a third of Canadians using it within the course of a year, it seemed time to make some changes to how we made it available.
So after careful consideration and multiple discussions with stakeholders to ensure that the needs of all Canadians would continue to be met, we stopped distributing them. In eight major cities, where the residential listings were separate directories, we no longer deliver the “white pages” unless you specifically ask us to.
Obviously, as a society, there’s a big shift towards digital. It’s a major focus of ours, which has meant that over the last year, we’ve converted 30% of our annualized revenues to online and 30% of our digital searches now come from our mobile platforms, an achievement realized in just over one year. We’re investing in our digital products and growing them. Meanwhile, on the print side, through initiatives such as the distribution by request of the “white pages”, we’ve reduced our paper consumption by over 25% in just two years.
Another interesting tidbit − the same regular research showing weaker print residential directory usage patterns demonstrated that the print Yellow Pages directory usage remains notable, with 1 in 2 Canadians using the trusty tome each month to find local goods and services.
Perhaps some things don’t change quite as much as we think they do.