Page turner: Yellow Book takes on Sprint

The next time you let your fingers do the walking, your digits may have extra ground to cover thanks to Yellow Book USA, a billion-dollar phonebook company that's entering the Charlottesville market this summer.

Though Yellow Book spokesperson Maria Mitchell declined comment for this story, citing an upcoming press conference at which information will be available to all news media, Yellow Book reps have already begun canvassing area businesses hoping to convince advertisers that all yellow pages are not created equal.

They're already having some luck.

"I'm going to advertise in it," says Rapture co-owner Mike Rodi, who currently advertises in the Community PhoneBook. That's a small phonebook published by Data National that– along with phone numbers– features poetry on nearly every page. He claims he stopped advertising in the Sprint Yellow Pages after the ad there listed the wrong information, and Sprint, he says, refused to offer him compensation.

"I felt like I deserved some kind of a credit for the fact that they made a mistake," he says.

Pam Watson, who owns the local Roto-Rooter with her husband, Robert, says they may also advertise in Yellow Book, but not because they're unhappy with the current options.

"We may want to be in all three," says Watson.

Not everyone is embracing the newcomer.

"I don't think Charlottesville is that large a city or necessarily that specialized a market to need multiple phonebooks," says David Poole, owner of the Great Frame-Up in Albemarle Square.

For the past 17 years, Poole has advertised his business in the Sprint Yellow Pages. "As far as yellow pages go," he says of Sprint, "I think they are pretty impressive."

Yellow Book certainly has its work cut out if it hopes to grab a piece of Sprint's pie.

"Sprint has been the official phone company of Charlottesville for years," says Jennifer Sherran, spokesperson for R.H. Donnelley, the Cary, North Carolina-based company that purchased the Charlottesville Sprint Yellow Pages in January 2003. "We know the market better than anyone."

Sherran says Sprint has an exclusive distribution deal with UVA and also provides the phone books to 98 percent of local hotel rooms.

But if recent history is any indication, the 74-year-old Yellow Book doesn't scare easily– in fact, according to the company's website, in the past seven years it has more than doubled its number of directories for a total of nearly 600. The company boasts a circulation of more than 72 million, and operates 165 offices in 42 states plus Washington, D.C.

Its website also offers a slew of press releases detailing the company's hundreds of acquisitions, including its December 1997 purchase of the R.H. Donnelley Proprietary East directory business, which included 43 yellow pages directories in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and D.C.

 For its foray into Charlottesville, Yellow Book seems intent on striking with force. In conversations with Charlottesville businesses, Yellow Book reps say they'll soon be occupying office space at swank Peter Jefferson Place on Pantops.

Sherran, however, remains confident. Sprint, she says, dominates Yellow Book in many markets across the nation. As an example, she cites Jefferson, Missouri, where Yellow Book entered the market "several years ago." Today, says Sherran, Sprint has 86 percent of the market there versus Yellow Book's 14 percent.

And in Hunterdon, New Jersey, where Sherran reports Yellow Book has been available for three years, Sprint also has 86 percent of the market, compared to 12 percent for Yellow Book and two percent for Verizon.

"We welcome the competition," says Sherran, "because we know we are the book of choice for many reasons."

The Great Frame-Up's Poole agrees.

"I would be surprised if people decide to discard their Sprint book and keep one of the others," he says. "I'm not terribly worried about it."

But Rapture's Rodi has a different take: If someone is going to use Yellow Book over Sprint, he says, "then I sort of need to cover that base."

However the new directory affects advertisers, for consumers it can only mean one thing: really skinny fingers.

Yellow Book USA