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June 6, 2007

AT&T Yellow Pages chief rebuts Gates' claims

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:01 PM

Back in May, Bill Gates told an audience of advertising executives in Seattle that the end was near for traditional media such as newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

"The Yellow Pages are going to be used less and less," Gates said in a question-and-answer session with another Microsoft exec at the end of his speech.

One major publisher of Yellow Pages took umbrage with Gates' assessment. Denny Payne, who runs AT&T's $3.7 billion Yellow Pages division, sees his business surviving in the digital age, according to this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Let's review the rest of Gates' vision for how our fingers will do the walking in the future:

Technology improvements such as voice recognition will make the experience of searching for a plumber, for example, "far better than what you get in the Yellow Pages," Gates said. "After all, we know your location, and so we can cluster around that. We can take the information and show you the names, and then you can expand the information easily. So, yes, I think that these things always take time, but Yellow Page usage amongst people in their, say, below 50, will drop to zero, near zero over the next five years."

Not so, Payne said.

According to the Post-Dispatch story, he "talked up the book's simplicity, its place in our lives and the research showing that 61 percent of people still turn first to their print phone book when looking for a local company."

"'Business is good, and we expect it to be good,' Payne said. 'It's still the easiest method of search out there.'"

He went on to describe AT&T's strategy for melding print, online and wireless technology for directory listings -- a similar vision to that espoused by Gates.

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Tricia Duryee
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