The new phone books are here! Oh, goody.

The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!

As a teen, one of my favorite comedies was The Jerk starring Steve Martin. It’s a classic filled with unforgettable lines: “You mean I’m going to stay this color?” and “I’ve found my special purpose!” come to mind immediately. Navin Johnson’s excitement when the phone books came was unforgettable:

Navin Johnson: The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

Sorry Navin, but I’m with Harry on this one—but not for the reason you might expect.

The Yellow Pages aren’t the problem. If your customers find you there, you need to be there—like it or not. You need to be media neutral, and I’ve recommended eliminating all Yellow Pages advertising for some clients, and encouraged others to increase their annual spend.

Here’s the problem:


Warning: Video contains one “WTF” F-Bomb | View this video on YouTube

You see, the problem is with the way the Yellow Pages is delivered—the printed phone book itself.

My personal phone book experiences

  • At home, we get three or four books from different providers
  • At work, we receive a stack about three feet high – this year we were to keep the delivery person from dropping them off
  • Before starting Outsource Marketing in 1997, my employer’s office received so many phone books they were delivered on pallets

Like many people, I haven’t used a printed phone book in over a decade, but I do use the Yellow Pages occasionally.

The environmental impact

Over 540 million phone books were printed and delivered last year. Here’s the impact according to YellowPagesGoesGreen.org:

To produce 500 million books:

  • 19 million trees need to be harvested
  • 1.6 billion pounds of paper are wasted
  • 7.2 million barrels of oil are misspent in their processing (not including the wasted gas used for their delivery to your doorstep)
  • 268,000 cubic yards of landfill are taken up
  • 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are squandered

Sobering statistics, but if you think eliminating the Yellow Pages is going to be easy, think again.

The Yellow Pages are big business

Even though the Yellow Pages are moving online, the money is in the printed books. Here are some Yellow Pages industry statistics from PaperlessPetition.org, a group working to scrap the phone book:

  • Global Industry Revenue: $26 billion
  • U.S. Industry Revenue: $14 billion
  • Revenue from printed directories: 97%
  • Revenue from online directories: 3%

What can be done?

PaperlessPetition.org has a reasonable approach.

Their first option is to make all phone books strictly on-demand. If you ask for a directory, you get one.

Their second option is to create an Opt-Out Registry similar to the Do Not Call Registry or the DMA Choice program from Direct Marketing Association that lets you control the types of direct mail you receive.

I’d recommend all books include a URL and a phone number you can call if you’d like to stop receiving printed phone books, or if you see phone books littering your neighborhood.

So, do you use a printed phone book?

How would you like phone book distribution to be handled?

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