I’m starting to wonder if google places was a foreboding for this cooperate and brand bias we now see because Google must have known that "without" Google Places there would be zero plumbers/painters/cleaners independent sites on page one for local search. Now that we have the same national directories with landing pages for each area completely dominating all the SERPS I watch.
I have managed to convince several clients to buy BING adds which are much cheaper than google adds and are working nicely for them. I came up with a Acronym when talking to them “Google - Get Out Of Google (or) Lose Everything”
Diversify of die
On the other hand, my own project is doing nicely because I have the time to put in but cheap SEO for clients is just no longer possible and hasn't been for a while!