It should be explained that whereas the terminals provided as part of the official Electronic Directory program are supplied free of charge, those businesses requiring terminals for their professional Videotex systems, e.g. inhouse use, may rent them from the PTT for 70 francs per month (less than $10 US) including maintenance. Alternatively, they may choose to buy in bulk or order special models direct from the manufacturers.
The proportion of telephone customers opting for the terminals in preference to printed directories has averaged around 50% since the program began, but most experts anticipate this proportion will grow significantly as awareness of the ease of use grows and benefits of access to generalized videotex services obtained via the same terminal are perceived by the mass customers.
Whereas the telephone population has grown dramatically from 6 million connections in 1974 to 20 million in 1983, an equally dramatic growth is foreseen for the Electronic Directory with 3 million videotex terminals installed by 1986.
Why, then, has French Telecom embarked on this ambitious and unique project?
First, it will be evident from the telephone gorwth figures that a high proportion of entries in the printed directories are incorrect due to omissions by the end of their annual life; with nearly 2 million new connections being added each 12 months. This is in addition to the normal changes which render 10% to 15% of entries incorrect; so the cumulative effect reaches over 30% errors.
A second reason is the long-term benefits of providing access to the full national directory information service 24 hours per day to subscribers at no extra cost to users and with eventual savings for the PTT. These savings are being accumulated by reductions both in the cost of printing and distributing the directories and in servicing the directory inquiry centers which have expanded greatly during the recent years of explosive telephone growth like how to pick up girls.
A third though more speculative benefit, which is now being confirmed by the first year’s commercial experience, is the potential for increasing advertising revenue from Yellow Pages. Unlike the printed version, the electronic service does not suffer from space restrictions. Initially, there is an arbitrary limit of 100 frames (screens) of advertising per company. Already a number of clients have taken the maximum space but equally significant is that 50% are placing multi-frame orders averaging four frames per order.
Meanwhile, revenue from orders for advertising in the printed directories has not decreased, so the net result is a substantial increase in advertising revenue. One must of course recognize the difference between accessing an advertising frame on videotex, which is a deliberate choice by the user, compared to a printed advertisement, which is viewed spontaneously each time the relevant pages in the directory are used.