Sensis, the Telstra subsidiary behind the Yellow Pages phone directory, has opened up its data to developers by providing an applications programming interface (API), but there are catches.
"Developers can access Yellow Pages content and use that content to operate their own sites and applications. This helps support innovation in the industry and it helps our advertisers in two very important ways," Sensis CEO Bruce Akhurst said at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch in Sydney today.
Firstly, he said, it would allow advertisers to expand into a growing array of new services; and secondly, it would future-proof Sensis customers.
"It means they now have an entire industry of developers creating solutions for them. It'll help ensure their ads are first in line when new innovative local search services are launched in Australia," he said.
But developers who wish to use the Sensis Business Directory API must first agree to a series of terms and conditions in order to access the Yellow Pages data.
"It's not a free-for-all. One of the most important [conditions] is, apart from making sure you use the content appropriately, is that we need to be able to meter that content," he said. "We need to feed it into our [return on investment (ROI)] reports for our advertisers so that they know what use is being made and what value they're getting from various different websites."
The company uses a number of different tools in its ROI report, including around 500,000 metered numbers that are used uniquely depending on the medium of the ad. These tools allow the company to track whether customers are calling businesses based on ads from the phone book or online. Akhurst said the company also used the tools to determine how to distribute their ads in regional areas, whether it be paper or online.
"It varies radically. Regional Australia, completely different picture. Usage in Sydney is more heavily digital than print, usage in regional New South Wales is more heavily print than digital. Frankly, who cares? Because from the advertiser point of view, they just want the leads, wherever they're coming from and our job is to be agnostic [to the medium]."
Despite the company's shift into online, Akhurst said he believed the company would never move into digital only.
"The fact is that the print book is used a million times a week. While that's there, there's no way that print is going away. I don't believe the print product in any form is going to go away totally. On the other hand, usage is changing significantly."
Sensis did not see search engine giant Google as an enemy, Akhurst said, instead saying the company was a friend that Sensis was now working with.
"We're working with Google to make sure that your content for your business appears in a relevant place," he said. "Years ago, when I joined the company, we had the strategy of our own search engine — we were going to be the Google of Australia — but they've clobbered the globe in being the leading search engine."