It is that time of the year when new telephone books hit the driveways in front of the porches in my neighborhood. Because some people don’t seem to bother to pick them up quickly enough, when it rains they sometime slide down the driveway into the rectangular openings created in the curb for rain water and the phone books may, much to my dismay and no doubt that of the ducks and geese too, end up floating in a pond behind our house.
Here in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Chesapeake area of Eastern Virginia, with about 800,000 inhabitants in the southern part, about a million and a half including the surrounding areas, the size of Yellow Pages, which are in a separate book here, has been shrinking every year. At this point they have about a third of the thickness they used to have 14 years ago when we moved here.
In the age of Internet and smartphones, the pool of customers who still need and use printed Yellow Pages is shrinking every year. I gave my own children their first cell phone when they were about 12, and now that they are in their mid twenties, they probably have only a vague idea what the term “Yellow Pages” originally meant, unless we are talking about listings on Internet accessible from their smart phones (I thank God that I don’t have to pay for their phones anymore)!
I always pick up my own copy of Yellow Pages, which is free to subscribers with a fixed phone line, as soon as I see it there on the driveway and the first thing I do is look for my local competition under Translators & Interpreters, located between Transit Lines and Transmission. (Transit Lines, whatever that means, has only 1 listing, while Transmissions has 3.5 pages, if I include 2 full-page advertisements).
There were only three listings for Translators & Interpreters in my Yellow Pages last year and the year before, and I see only three modest (and thus least expensive) listings in the phone book there also this year, the same ones as the last year and the year before. Two of them are translation agencies in Virginia Beach, one of them is a translator, also in Virginia Beach. Judging by his name, he could be German, and judging by the fact that he does not seem to even have a website, he could be an older guy who may be retired or semi-retired at this point and who may be using translation mostly to supplement his other income.
But these are just my assumptions, and they could be wrong.
Somebody from one of these two agencies, I forgot which one, sent me an e-mail last year. They had a job for me, which I would have gladly taken, but the problem was, they needed the translation next day and when I called them from my cell phone I was anxiously awaiting a towing service in downtown Washington DC because I somehow got a flat tire. So I never got to know the agency, and they never got to know me either. Two ships passing in the night as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it. The image is so powerful that I feel compelled to take the liberty of including the relevant passage in my silly blog post today:
“Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.”
I remember that when I lived in San Francisco in the eighties and early nineties, there were many pages of advertisements from translation agencies in my local Yellow Pages every year, including a small listing for my services. It was worth the money then, but it is probably not worth it now as I wrote in this post already five years ago.
It makes much more sense for translators to have a website that can be easily found by Google and other search engines. It is cheaper than a listing in Yellow Pages, and the range of potential customers includes not only people who live in your local area, but potentially the entire planet.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the types of businesses that still put a lot of money into advertising in printed Yellow Pages in 2015 in my area.
The traditional types of businesses which, unlike translators, have to rely on a base of local customers, still account for the majority of businesses listed and heavily advertising in local Yellow Pages.
These businesses include:
6. Funeral services
7. Storage facilities
1. Lawyers’ services in particular are advertised more than any other service in my local Yellow Pages. They are listed under several categories:
53 pages under “Attorneys”, 33 pages under “Lawyers”, and 2 pages under “Counselors” for a total of 88 pages.
2. Dentists finished at the second place, although it was a distant second, with 18 pages.
3. Physicians can be found on 16 pages in my local Yellow Pages.
4. Restaurants are listed on 11 pages, but because there are only a few advertisements on these pages, a lot of restaurants are covered.
The problem that sales managers who try to sell listings in Yellow Pages to local businesses have these days is that as more and more businesses put more and more money and effort into other types of advertising, especially marketing on the Internet, is that if Yellow Pages stop listing businesses that are no longer willing to pay for it, the listings in the phone book will be perceived as incomplete by local inhabitants who know about these business and don’t understand why they can’t find them in their Yellow Pages.
I was wondering whether my business would simply disappear completely from my local phone book when I finally stopped paying for a listing, despite the ominous warnings about the consequences of such a foolish act from the sales rep.
But the listing did not disappear, although I no longer pay for it. Instead, it was only put in the wrong category – and whether it was done on purpose, or simply through ignorance, I will never know.
PatentTranslators.com is now listed under Patent Agents in my local Yellow Pages, between Patches, which lists only one business called ARTISTIC IMPRESSION (I have no idea what exactly it is that they do), and Patent Attorneys – which comprises only one listing of only one firm in Virginia Beach.
So because I am still listed there, and this time in the wrong category, every month I get to talk to several people who have a great idea about something that they would like to have patented – if it does not cost too much. They think that I am patent agent because the Yellow Pages told them so.
I don’t really mind too much, I just explain to them that all we do at PatentTranslators (I always use pluralis majestatis, although I do most of the work myself) is translate patents from foreign languages, rather than translating ideas and designs into applications that can be filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
If they ask me for a recommendation for the kind of service that they are looking for, and about a quarter of them do that, I give them the website of a patent agent in Southern California who, as a customer of mine, agreed to talk to budding inventors who are looking for a patent agent.
I seem to remember that when I was still paying for a small paid listing in the Yellow Pages, it was about 80 dollars a month, or about a thousand dollars a year. After about 7 years I pulled my listing because it never even paid for itself.
It was not a good investment for my type of business, namely translation specializing in patents and technical articles and documentation, because there are no local customers for this type of translation from foreign languages where I live.
Your experience may be similar or different, depending on what it is that you translate and where you live, but I feel that I did the right thing by pulling the plug on Yellow Pages years ago.