Last month you probably received a big new yellow pages directory (listing all the businesses in your area) delivered to your doorstep. You may also have obtained the blank pages (list of residential addresses), either as a separate volume or combined into one book.
And if you’re like 70% of Americans, you probably won’t even open the directory once before the batch arrives the following year.
Phone directories were once extremely useful: before the Internet, they were the primary way we had to search for phone numbers and addresses of local businesses or acquaintances. But for most people, they’re no longer needed – and simply recycling or throwing away the 650,000 tonnes of phone books distributed nationwide each year costs municipalities between $ 45 and $ 62 million.
So why are phone books still routinely delivered to most American households every year? Mainly because companies have fought against regulations to phase out yellow pages for self-interest – they are full of ads and make money for these companies.
Meanwhile, many states legally require telephone companies to provide White Pages as a public service, although these laws are phased out over time.
Now, if you don’t use the directory, the manufacturers have created a system that allows you to unsubscribe online. However, reviews say it’s unreliable – and if you opt out, there’s a good chance you’ll get a directory anyway.
Why you always get the yellow pages
The yellow pages are advertising disguised as a directory. Although they list all the businesses in a given area in fine print, a subset of businesses pay for ads or a larger type.
And even though directory advertising revenues are declining (and shifting to digital directories), a a handful of companies (mainly Dex Media, AT&T, Hibu and Verizon) still make a good profit from yellow pages distributed in the United States. This is partly because advertising rates are often calculated based on the number of directories distributed, and not based on actual directory usage.
As a result, these companies have fought their efforts to reduce the distribution of phone books every step of the way, even though fewer and fewer people are using them. In 2010, the city of Seattle passed the first ordinance requiring telephone directory companies to allow residents not to receive yellow pages, and imposed penalties on the companies for every unwanted book delivered.
The Local Search Association (LSA) – an industry group representing the largest telephone directory companies – sued the city, arguing that the ordinance violated their rights to freedom of expression. The group ultimately won the lawsuit, overturning the law.
Interestingly, as the trial progressed, the Local Search Association has launched its own nationwide opt-out system. “We are trying to do the right thing here, through our customers and our environmentalists,” LSA president Neg Norton told TreeHugger at the time, explaining that a unified national site would be better than a patchwork of opt-out systems run by the city.
But you might also have a more cynical view of their strategy: The LSA sued Seattle to eliminate the precedent of municipalities with the power to regulate the distribution of telephone directories. Plus, the LSA opt-out doesn’t have Seattle’s accountability or transparency – there’s no penalty preventing businesses from simply delivering books to people who have unsubscribed. THey do not have to actively advertise the opt-out system, required by the Seattle ordinance. More importantly, they reluctantly adopted the opt-out system to avoid an even worse fate: the opt-in.
If that was the strategy, it quickly paid off: San Francisco adopted the first opt-in order in 2011, but after Seattle was forced to settle its lawsuit with a payment of $ 500,000 to the Local Search Association and the group proceeded to sue San Francisco, the city abandoned its plan.
As a result, for every household in the country, the default setting is still getting the yellow pages every year. You can opt out, but not many people are aware of this option, and some critics say the lack of accountability makes the system quite inefficient. My brother, for example, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, unsubscribed online and still had Hibu’s yellow pages delivered last month.
Why you might still get blank pages
The White Pages – which contain residential listings – are a very different story. They cost money to print and distribute, and provide virtually no income. For years, states have required fixed line providers to distribute white pages as a public service.
Gradually, however, that is changing. In 2010, Verizon submitted a request to regulators in several states to allow it to create a membership system for the White Pages, and in New York City, Florida, and Pennsylvania, they obtained approval.
Since then, at least 12 other states – Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin – have given permission to various companies, although blank pages are still distributed in some of them. Other state legislatures, such as that of Maryland, have refused requests, asking for hard evidence that people really don’t use white pages. In response, Verizon ordered polls showing that only 11 percent of households rely on white pages for research.
The funny thing, however, is that representatives of some of these same companies have made the exact opposite argument in favor of keeping the yellow Pages. There, companies say the low numbers actually underestimate the actual number of people using the yellow pages. It may just be a coincidence that the yellow pages are profitable while the white pages are an expense.
Why automatic directory delivery should stop
There’s a good argument against opt-in systems for yellow and white pages: they could disproportionately harm the elderly and the poor, who are the least likely to have internet access to look up addresses and numbers. phone. If phone book deliveries suddenly stopped, some people would be stuck with outdated information.
Yet the automatic printing of phone books for millions of homes across the country is a huge waste. All this unnecessary feeling roughly produced 3.57 million tonnes greenhouse gases and consumes billions of gallons of water, despite the fact that recycled paper is generally used. In addition, mmunicipalities pay millions of dollars to throw away or recycle stacks of books that haven’t even been removed from their shrink wrap. There must be a better way.
And meIt is not particularly difficult to think of possible fixes to ensure that opt-in programs are fairer. Businesses could distribute phone books with a letter explaining the new system and a slip to send if someone wanted to continue getting the books next year. They could send follow-up letters to the people or areas they feel are most likely to actually use the books, or simply establish membership systems for urban areas – which are most likely to have a voucher. Internet access – and preserve the current option. program in rural areas, like Missouri has.
Whatever the means, what is clear is that it is time to end the general delivery of telephone directories to every household in the country. This system only benefits one group: the people who sell ads there.