Old Models Never Die … They Evolve


Most of you (I think) remember the heyday of yellow pages when those thick print directories hit your doorstep, often followed weeks later by thinner but still hefty print directories from competing publishers. Now, if you receive a print yellow pages at all, it’s a shadow of its former self.

That’s why I was so surprised to receive a print, 120 page directory in the mail yesterday. It’s called Best Pick Reports and it is owned by EBSCO, a company known to most publishers but very few consumers.

I think it’s fair to call Best Pick Reports a next generation yellow pages. It’s organized by categories (with a focus on home improvement and repairs) and presents a list of local vendors. It’s also printed on inexpensive paper with modest production values, much in the spirit of the old yellow pages directories and suggesting saturation distribution, also a key aspect of the yellow pages model.

But Best Pick Reports also draws on the model of Angie’s List, presenting only local vendors that have been given high ratings by the local community. Angie’s List, however, struggled to sell this information as a subscription service to consumers, while Best Pick Reports distributes its information for free.

Drawing on the resources of EBSCO’s research arm, the company surveys consumers in local areas to develop lists of recommended plumbers, builders, etc. Those that receive high ratings are offered the chance to be listed in the publication for a fee, so while vendors can’t buy a rating, they do pay to play. Companies that do pay to list are assigned what appears to be key phone numbers to track response (another yellow pages innovation). Best Pick Reports also checks the license and insurance status of companies that pay to list.

Overall, it’s a fascinating blending of models. There are elements of the old yellow pages: categorized reference information and mass distribution. There are elements of the new vendor sourcing models: ratings and reviews, trust markers and focus on a limited selection of choices, presented as “the best.” And there are generous dollops of the innovative Angie’s List model, but modified to remove the vexing subscription component. At the same time, this model bypasses the anonymity that makes it hard to fully trust most of the big online review sites.

Is this an ideal model? While it has many appealing characteristics, this is an expensive business to operate. It needs a large and robust research capability (and since not every highly rated firm will advertise, you need to cast a wide net). It has expensive print distribution costs. It also needs a professional advertising salesforce. Moreover, EBSCO is hardly an established consumer brand. But none of this means EBSCO can’t succeed; it just means EBSCO will need to work hard to succeed. And business success that doesn’t come fast and easy usually defines the businesses that are the most successful of all.