Sooner or later, all "old media" companies find themselves threatened by a site or phenomenon on the Internet. We’ve seen it happen with the music industry, TV, newspapers, and many others. Sometimes, it takes a while for the old guard to discover what’s happening—that appears to be the case with Yell, which calls itself the world’s largest yellow pages publisher.
The problem—from Yell’s point of view—is Yellowikis, a wiki-based business directory available in several languages and containing listings for several different countries. The directory publisher is accusing Yellowikis of "misrepresentation," maintaining that the site’s name "constitutes an ‘instrument of fraud.’"
At first glance, it seems like a case of an elephant feeling threatened by a gnat. Yellowikis has only been operating since January 2005, has around 5,000 listings, and is run entirely by volunteers. In contrast, Yell had revenues of US$2.4 billion during 2005. However, Yellowikis offers something a telephone directory publisher cannot: dynamic, customizable content. In contrast, once a yellow pages business directory is published, that’s it until the next edition.
Yell wants Yellowikis to pay damages and surrender the domain name, perhaps so it can launch a wiki-like service. As "Yellow Pages" is a trademarked name in the UK and Yellowikis refers to itself as "Yellow Pages for the 21st Century," the small wiki may find itself embroiled in an expensive legal fight.
Even if Yell wins or forces a settlement, it won’t change the fact that the business model of selling advertising, printing it in gigantic phone books, and dropping yellow pages directories off on front porches is endangered. Many directory publishers realize this and have developed an online presence that mixes paid placements in with search results. Others, like Verizon, are getting out of the yellow pages business altogether.
While we faithfully replace the old phone directories with the new ones we find next to our front door each summer, actually cracking one open to look up a listing is a rare occurrence. That’s what the Internet is for.