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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Join the discussion 33 Comments

  • HannahS says:

    I couldn’t agree more – every time I get a new phone book I take it straight down to be recycled.

    I’d like to see them delivered on an opt in basis only; but failing that I’d really like the opportunity to opt out.

  • Rob Williams says:

    I called last time I got a stack and asked them to stop. I told them I’m not even a customer anymore as I was using Vonage. They said since I’m not a customer, they can’t take me off the list – which of course makes no sense at all.

  • I’ve used the Yellow Pages upon moving into any new city and my Internet wasn’t hooked up yet. Then it was essential. But after that, I used them only to demonstrate my strength by tearing them in half in client meetings…

    The waste problem really got out of control when the first AT&T monopoly was busted. (How soon before we need to bust the second one?) This created competitive phone books — which I guess was good for advertisers, but wholly redundant (and confusing) for consumers…

    My father, a senior citizen, uses the Yellow Pages because he refuses to get a computer. And in his small town in Oregon, his phonebook ads for his small business do work. Let’s not forget that a lot of people are still not wired, particularly in rural areas and poor neighborhoods…

    That said, for the rest of us, how about sending out the Yellow Pages on a CD or DVD? Then the ads could contain live links to a company’s website. Or they could contain video ads (good for my business) and other downloads and special offers. Even better, put the book on a USB Flash drive, so that way nothing is thrown out at year’s end — I know I could use another Flash drive since I keep losing them…

  • Dr Wright says:

    a perfect example that, just cause you are out there, doesnt mean you are OUT There…

    Dr. Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show
    http://www.wrightplacetv.com
    http://www.twitter.com/drwright1

  • Ed Kohler says:

    It does seem like some form of do not call list or opt-in system is going to need to be created to deal with this print spam. Asking consumers to opt-out of every edition of every phone delivered is a game of whack-a-mole.

  • […]    First I want to give thanks to Responsible Marketing Blog for giving me the idea for this post. You can read the entire post here, its a good post!  http://responsiblemarketing.com/blog/?p=652 […]

  • I love the idea of the YP on flash drives! However, call me old-fashioned, but I still use paper phone books for about half my lookups (most of the local ones, but none of the out-of-area). Our whole county fits in a phone book that’s only an inch thick, and a lot of time it’s just so much faster to find the info. Also, in the YP, you can compare the ads in a way that you can’t do easily on a website.

    BTW, I cover YP advertising with a full chapter in Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World. I don’t think it’s obsolete yet! But its days ARE numbered.

  • Dave Maskin says:

    One word (OK, two words):
    Google search…

  • Earon Davis says:

    I still use my phone book to find local businesses, which is not easy to do on the Internet, especially smaller businesses. However, I do not believe that telephone books should be distributed free of charge because of the environmental impacts and the tremendous waste. If they were offered only for sale, consumers could choose whether the price was worth it.

  • I think it is a pitiful example of the resources companies waste when they don’t know their audience; couple that with the fact that they throw it at the end of my driveway I really have to wonder if they care at all what the average person thinks of their “service”.

  • Annemarie DeMarco says:

    While we don’t use the latest (208-2009) phone book, for local business and home suppliers, my husband and I both like using about 5 year old Yellow/White Pages. If the company is still in business, it meets one of our critical criteria for a vendors. We then will probably do additional research on-line as well as check some references. We also use on-line services as well for identifying potential business partners.

    It seems like we get about 8 different phone books a year (different lines, vendors for different services) which is in my view a big waste, since I’ll keep one local book and recycle the rest. I’m very interested in the green movement and support minimizing the use of paper whenever possible.

  • I’ve used a printed phone book for 3 things in the past year:

    1. To find a sewing machine repair service (most are not online.)
    2. To get Roadrunner’s number because my internet service went down.
    3. To prop up my record collection so that the vinyl doesn’t warp.

    I like having one around for things like above, pressing flowers, teaching my son how to use them, etc, but I certainly don’t need 3 every year, and could easily live with getting one only every two or three years.

  • Carl Wright says:

    In smaller towns phone books are indispensible. If I want to find anything in my town of 30K, there are listings for most of the local business in town. Most listings, though, are for businesses at least 25 miles or further away. Which is very helpful. Internet pages do not do near as well.

    A problem with being listed in an internet yellow pages is you have to be vetted by one of two telephone services. They start vetting you by your yellow page ad or by your white page listing. So to get on the Internet pages you already have to be listed in a printed phone book.

    If you have a web page and no listed phone number, like I do since I do not have walk-in trade, it is very hard to get listed in any internet directory. You can be picked up on a specific Google search though. Still, cuts down on exposure.

    Getting numbers or informatation from an internet listing is okay if you are in a larger city say 75K or more. Even then, you are not assured of getting a good reliable listing.

    So the ideal compromise is that since 50% of the USA is on the coasts, start printing phone books for people that are 100 miles or more from the ocean. The water lovers can go use the internet.

    Carl

  • I’m 25 years old and I never use a printed phone book anymore. I believe almost everybody from my age uses the internet or mobile internet to find a number/address/name. So I think a lot of printed phone books go straight into the paper dump, big waste. They keep printing and distribuating that many books because they have to have impressive numbers to convince the advertisers.

    Alex is right when he says that many old fashioned people like to read things on paper, but I think that number of people is nothing compared to the number of printed books. Most people also don’t want to read a phone book, the want to find a phone number and the phone book is just a tool.

    In my opinion you make a very good point by saying that this tool is becoming unwanted and costs way to much to produce.

  • K Dixon says:

    With so many businesses going under these days, you will find that many companies are “stuck” in the listings for years after they are gone. Even my own published phone number is still outdated after being in my house 6 years. Considering available technology, why can’t the internet databases catch up with that big stack of yellow pages I get twice a year! Great blog, thanks!

  • SHobbs says:

    For your readers who don’t want to get books, the best way to stop delivery is to contact the publisher, either on their Web site or by phone. Most of the publishers won’t accept third -party lists for privacy reasons and the site you mention is well aware of that. Also, the environmental stats you published can’t be verified, and the EPA puts directories at less the .3% of the waste stream.
    Since US consumers referenced the printed books over 13.4 billion times last year, there are still a whole lot of people who depend on directories to find local businesses. Believe it or not, many people do not have access to the Internet at work. And there are over a million small and large businesses who need buyers, not browsers. Full disclosure, I work for the Yellow Pages Association and the facts on YP can be found on our site http://www.ypassociation.org.

  • Kitti McConnell says:

    I receive several every year. Only one is of any use, and then seldom. But it is faster to pick it up than to turn on the computer and connect. And sometimes it has free magnets attached!

  • I have used the yellow page section of the phone book about three times this year. Most of the time I use Microsoft Live Search on my PDA/Smart Phone to find what I need. The yellow pages of the phone book are good if you want a large list of the same type of business at your disposal (for instance if you are looking for a particular item) that you can grab and go. There are now a few less pages in my phone book.

    By the way, the only phone book that I keep on hand is the Yello Page directory from the local provider. All other knock offs and the white pages go directly to recycle.

  • I use them for exercise. Carrying them from my front porch to my recycle bin can be a great workout! What a waste!

  • Mark Friedman says:

    Nice question – and makes me wonder, why don’t they just print these books for people who ask for them? Likely less than 100 million would have been requested – and maybe then, they could use a font size the octogenarians who read this book could see – because 6 point font is useless to their target audience anyway!

  • Judy Ross MBA says:

    Keep things simple and green. Electronic information is a much more efficient way to communicate. It is more up to date and a much better use of natural resources.

  • Theodore Sopher says:

    Like many people I take the phonebooks from my doorstep directly to the recycle bin. It makes me ill because I know it’s wasteful to make and toss directly to the recyclers. I love the idea of an “opt out.” Some people need tactile media like phonebooks and newspapers. That’s fine but I’ll be getting my information streams from a laptop or PDA (soon to be iPhone).

  • Cass Nevada says:

    One use of phone books I’d miss: they are quite nearly the perfect height for extra monitor on my desk.
    But even then, one will last a very long time. Nice post, thanks!

  • […] at my friend Patrick Byers’ Responsible Marketing Blog, where he intelligently analyzed the wastefulness of phonebooks, which most people use to keep their kitchen counters from floating away. In response to the […]

  • Paul Allen says:

    When I need to change a bulb in the ceilingfan/lighting fixture in my office, I put the Dallas Yellow Pages on a chair and stand on it – gives me just enough added height to reach the offending bulb.

    May sound like a dumb and dangerous way to change a light bulb but at least I found a use for the phone book.

  • Scott Precious says:

    WHAT??? Why is this so good for your company?

    Not only is it a total waste of trees and your money but who really looks for you as an individual? Put your money into a more targeted marketing programme and see what happens. Look at how many other companies are offering the same service as you, why would a customer pick you out of a hundred others? The book comany doesn’t care about your company only their profits. And to make my point i ran a test this year, i ran an advert in the phone book and matched that to a direct mailing that i sent out to potential customers, so far this year we have had 1 call from the phone book and we are looking at over 100 with the letter and a conversion rate of 70%. Need i say more?

    PS The letter has being sent out monthly and we still have not spent what we did with the phone book advert.

  • […] pointed me to a post on Responsible Marketing where they talk about an issue familiar to regular readers of The Deets: phone book […]

  • I’ve always noticed that in the very beginning of the phone book there seems to be a lot of useful information not related to the name/number portion of the book. I believe there are even coupons in this section as well as seating charts to local arena’s and other venues, but really, who today really has the time to sit down and read this when we have the internet…?

    In the past I can remember coming home from work and seeing the new phone book bundle sitting on my door step and I can clearly remember walking over to it and dumping it into my recycling bin without the books even making it into my house.

  • Bill Downey says:

    There are still a lot of us who use the printed phonebook. I use both online and printed directories (depending on if I’m traveling). To be honest, I am more likely to retain the information if I read and hold it (printed media) than if I look at a screen. Of course I still read books and even still perform research using printed media.
    One idea that I proposed on a LinkedIn discussion was that the phone company offer an opt out option so those that do not want phone books don’t recieve them.

  • Jim Bogart says:

    I continue to find the printed Yellow Pages to be very efficient in finding local businesses. The online equivalents all tend to fall down in terms of ease of use. I use online directories for out of area searches.

  • Bill Nigh says:

    We live in an apartment building where my wife is the super. When they arrive, they are in shrink wrap and just sit there. We call the distributor to pick them up, but they seldom come, so we usually sadly consign all that stuff to recycle. What a waste.

  • Shawna Warbington says:

    When I lived in a large city, using the Internet was the easy way to find things. I still use it for things that are not local. However, I have found in the last two weeks that it just doesn’t cut it for my current new town of 9,000.
    It’s very frustrating to try to look up something local and get results for cities 4 hours away.

  • John Hoff says:

    I’m very glad to be part of the Doorstep Liberation Front and leading the charge to stop unwanted phone book dumping, save a tree.

    Dumping a phone book on the doorstep of an OBVIOUSLY vacant house–with boarded up doors and windows, utility shut off notices, a pile of seven other rain-soaked, rotting phone books–is what? IS LITTERING!!! IS A NUISANCE! IS A PROBLEM!

    Encourage your city government to pass ordinances against unwanted phone book dumping and fine those who participate in unwanted phone book dumping.

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