How to Unsubscribe from the Yellow Pages

PHONE BOOKS
Photo by Lulu Vision

I’m not a big fan of unsolicited mail in any form, including letters, email, and phone books. If you want it, fine. But having an address should not be permission enough for marketers to carpet bomb your home with marketing messages.

Greg at Metblogs recently took a look at the phone book issue by pointing out that everyone reading his post is well aware of a powerful alternative to printed directories of businesses: the web. He cites a StarTribune story that states that 85% of phone books are tossed in the trash rather than recycled – and this number is increasing. Ouch.

Johnny Northside also weighed in on the subject, explaining that phone books delivered to doorsteps in his neighborhood end up acting as a “nobody’s home” sign for potential copper thieves:

Paper Pulp Pixies of Pure Evil

The wicked phone book trolls-in-trucks had hit many properties in my neighborhood, including some places where we didn’t want a vacancy advertised and we had been trying hard to make it look like somebody was watching the property. But now piles of phone books on the steps advertised “Nobody is home. Break in and steal copper plumbing to buy crack.”

Johnny offers a solution to the problem of phone book deliveries to clearly vacant home:

Unwanted phone books dumped on the steps of vacant houses are littering. Period. The policies of our city (and other cities) should reflect this. Phone companies should not be allowed to dump their crap on our front steps. If they won’t cease, fine ’em. If they still won’t cease, throw them in jail with the crack heads.

It appears that a lot of the online defense of the YP industry comes from a guy named Ken Clark, who uses a website and blog to help market his business (irony #1) and runs Google ads on his site (irony #2). He has a recent post where tears down the anti-yellow page crowd by revealing their “hidden agendas”:

Their membership is a motley collection of bloggers (defined as self appointed experts with a keyboard, an Internet connection, and an opinion on all matters of civilization), media atheists (“I never use a print Yellow Page”), eco-elitists that believe that print Yellow Pages is the single greatest cause of ruin for the planet, those on Wall Street that think the industry is a dead animal about to keel over, and newspaper/magazine writers that delight in dragging down this industry in the hopes they can squeeze a few more advertising dollars to bolster their sinking ships.

Mr Clark stood up for the yellow pages within the comments of a yellow page bashing post on another blog by presenting some industry facts:

Those books you say you never use actually got referenced over 13 billion times last year. And that’s just the print versions. 87% of all adults reference them at least once a year, 70% in a typical month, and 50+% on average month. How about on average 1.4X each week?

According to Mr. Clark’s stats, more than 1 in 8 phone books is never opened and 30% of them are opened so rarely that it can’t possibly be justified to print and ship them. Is this what advertisers are paying for?

The new phone book is garbage
Photo by Steve Garfield

He goes on to explain the industry’s perspective on phone books’ informational superiority:

There is no other directional media that can provide buyers the information they need when they need it about local businesses than the print Yellow Pages. It is truly the original local search engine….

That seems like a bit of a stretch considering how easy it is today to search for businesses on a map with your own address at the center, with ratings, reviews, etc. provided from that point.

Mr Clark also runs a separate Yellow Pages advocacy site called YPGreen (a name similar to an environmental group called Yellow Pages Goes Green) where he puts out the good word for the YP industry. In a recent post there, he debunked some of the more common misconceptions about yellow pages including information on their manufacturing environmental impact:

Now it get’s personal « Yellow Pages Environmental Forum

Currently, on average, most publishers are using about 40% recycled material (from the newspapers and magazines you are recycling curbside), and the other 60% comes from wood chips and waste products of the lumber industry. If you take a round tree and make square or rectangular lumber from it, you get plenty of chips and other waste. Those by-products make up the other 60% of the raw material needed.

Note that these waste products created in lumber milling would normally end up in landfills. Not only that, as wood chips decompose, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas closely associated with global warming, which I assuming you are also very worried about.

Of course, this doesn’t take the environmental costs of delivery, recycling transportation, recycling, or the 85% dumped-in-landfill costs into consideration. Nor the fact that wood chips are a fungible commodity that could be burned in a power plant like Great River Energy or used to manufacture some other product from recycled materials.

Opting Out

If you’re . . .

. . . one of the 13% who never open your yellow pages over the year it sits in your home.
. . . someone who takes it off my steps as a safety precaution then recycles it.
. . . realizing that you don’t get enough value from phone books to want to justify the environmental costs

consider opting out.

You can do so at Yellow Pages Goes Green

Phone numbers that should help:
DEX: 877-243-8339
Yellow Book: 800-929-3556
Verizon: 800-555-4833

Ban Phone Books?

Could they be banned? A city council-member in Boston has been trying to do just that:

City councilor seeks to ban phone book clutter

In an effort to curtail city recycling expenses and reduce litter, Councilor Salvatore LaMattina has proposed a new ordinance that would ban the distribution of unsolicited commercial deliveries weighing more than a pound. His target: hundreds of thousands of phone books left on front stoops and sidewalks across the city.

“The taxpayers end up paying for this stuff to be carted off and recycled,” LaMattina said, noting the piles he’s seen on streets in East Boston and the North End.

Or, why not just ban home delivery? Ship the phone books to easy to access locations where people can pick them up. Then send out postcards to every home to remind people that they can swing by for a phone book or call to set up a delivery. This way, no phone books will end up unwanted at people’s homes. Megan Goodmunson proposed exactly this on the Minneapolis Issues List at e-Democracy forum:

How about the city council adopts an ordiance that bans the door to door
deliverY and requires the marketing companies to make initial contact with some
one at the residence, via telephone or return post card, and requires a
positive response from someone in the house that indicates they are interested
and in need of a new phone book. And possibly require the marketers to place a
big recycling reminder/instructions on the new phone book.

. . .

Here on the north side, with our vacant vs. occupied ratio, we have plenty of
unclaimed, un-needed white bags of phone books adding to the litter of our
neighborhood.

Opt-In

Personally, I think a ban would be going too far since there certainly are people using the yellow pages today and there are businesses benefitting from reaching those consumers. However, there absolutely should be a better process in place for allowing consumers to control whether these books of ads end up on their doorsteps.

I’d like to see an opt-in system since that would have a much larger impact on “subscriptions.” A more accurate accounting of phone book users through an opt-in system would likely benefit advertisers as well since they’d have a much better feel for who may potentially see their ads. Why should advertisers cover the cost of printing and delivery of phone books to people who’ll never open them?

34 thoughts on “How to Unsubscribe from the Yellow Pages”

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I had 20 pounds of phonebook dumped on my driveway last week and was wondering how the hell I could get them to stop delivering them to me. Seriously, I think I get six phonebooks a year, none of which I use.

  2. Thanks Ed! Just signed Kyle and I up to stop receiving these. We got ours last week…funny thing is that we haven’t had a land line for over a year and it’s still published in there. Not only are they a waste of paper since no one uses them, but the info inside has questionable integrity.

  3. Within two years, Ken has commented three separate times on my blog in defense of the print book. Each time he used the exact words and stats that you show above. He apparently has very good copy and paste skills.

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  5. Kudo’s for presenting all sides on this subject.

    But let me clear up one misconception you have provided: the EPA, not me, not the Yellow Pages industry, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s own numbers show that only 0.3% of the municipal solid waste stream comes from print Yellow Pages. So I’m not sure where you come up your numbers that 85% of the books go to a landfill. Standard mail and newspapers account for 2.4% and 4.9% of that waste stream.

  6. Ken, thanks for stopping by. I think we’re discussing two different figures. The 85% figure refers to the percentage of phone books that are thrown away. That doesn’t necessarily conflict with your EPA stat stating that this amounts to 0.3% of our solid waste.

    It’s not surprising to hear that standard mail and newspapers make up a larger percentage of our waste stream since they – while smaller – add up to more day after day. That’s another issue that I try to deal with by unsubcribing from as many catalogs as possible and switching to e-billing whenever it’s available.

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  8. Great job with this post guys!

    I have a Yellow Pages Survey available with details at http://yousnoozeyoulose.com/2008/06/10/update-survey-yellow-pages/ —- if you or anyone would like to participate!

    It’s true that everyone has their own set of stats and usage numbers that make their world go round. And everyone gets to choose what numbers they want to believe.

    One current Yellow Pages industry benchmark is 87% of all households use the book and the another is 87% of all adults. So, WHICH IS IT? There’s a pretty significant difference.

    And how are all these statistics figured? Interview several thousand people then extrapolate out over the entire universe of households and/or adults? And who’s doing the interviews?

    And which book are they talking about? I get 3 or 4 of them every few months like we all do. I guess it means across all books. And that’s why as an advertiser I need to be in all books?

    Correct-o-mundo.

    Using the GREAT BIG numbers that are required to sell ad space – we can do some very simple math. Let’s assume 87% of 112 million households based on the 2006 American Community Survey. And 13 billion impressions/references/referrals last year. You can now figure a number of impressions per household last year.

    To some that’s a pretty big number. Especially if all those impressions were in ONE Yellow Pages heading! But of course those impressions per household/adult are spread out over the ENTIRE book. Or…um…three or four books.

    If I’m an advertiser paying $600/$700/$1,000 or much, much more PER MONTH for my Yellow Pages ad, that’s a number that makes me stay awake at night. ALL night.

    The Yellow Pages industry needs GREAT BIG numbers to sell the ad space. In fact ANY advertising medium needs GREAT BIG numbers to sell their ad space. That’s just THE way it works.

    So, here are a couple of simple thoughts for the Yellow Pages industry:

    Let the households/adults who want to opt-out of print…opt-out. Yes, your universe of print users goes way, way down and it is boggling your mind to think about trying to sell your way out of that crater and keep your ship afloat. But the households/adults that continue to receive the book(s) are the households/adults that WANT to receive the book(s) because they’re valuable and they actually USE them. As an advertiser that’s who I want to be in front of and talk to. Not the ever growing legion of people that trash their books the very second they arrive on the doorstep and are telling everyone they know and don’t know to do the same. No two ways about it, a piece of my ad dollars go up in flames for every book that never gets opened. As long as we’re playing with BIG numbers…

    Beef up your online Yellow Pages offering so it can be an effective stand alone advertising solution. Advertisers that want online to reach all the print book haters/online lovers only can have it – those that want print and online can have that too. (I know this can be done now – I just don’t think it’s done very well. Or, let’s put it this way, it’s not done with the advertiser’s best interests in mind.)

    Hire sales reps that are true multi-platform “marketing consultants” and can help the advertiser think through all their advertising/marketing options with no bias toward one or the other. (I know…there may be a very, very few of these out there. But there’s one VERY BIG reason why there are only a very, very few if there are any at all.)

    Advertisers buy advertising to get results. To bring in more customers. To sell more stuff. To make more money.

    The bottom line is Yellow Pages reps sell ad space – the OPPORTUNITY to get results, bring in more customers, sell more stuff, make more money — based on…BIG NUMBERS.

    Unfortunately, the only way advertisers know is to buy ad space based on…BIG NUMBERS. If the numbers are too small, the PERCEIVED opportunity is too small as well.

    Therein lie: 1) the conundrum and 2) the huge opportunities to FIX IT!

  9. Cool! I signed up to stop receiving phone books. Hopefully the flood of unwanted phone books hitting my front steps will abate.

  10. Last time I used the yellow pages, my victrola skipped when I set it down….

    Seriously, I do not use any phone phones anymore, for business or personal use, because the internet is far easier and more reliable to use.

    Anyone buying ad space there, is buying perceived value based on the past, not real value based on today’s real world.

  11. I tried this trick and after a few days I got this e-mail:

    Thanks to the thousands that have signed up to “opt out” from receiving telephone books at http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org. The telephone book publishers have not been too happy with your requests. Some have accepted the information, and some have told us these request are bogus.

    For the rest of June, we would like to get another 10,000 sign ups to send to the publishers to show them this is a valid undertaking and request from real people. Please forward this request to as many people as possible.

    We will continue to provide the “opt out” request to the publishers at http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org.

    Thanks for helping to stop the madness and waste of dropping telephone books at our front doors.

    http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org

    Bummer.

  12. I used to sell Yellow Pages and once upon a time it was a great product. Now, ha!

    DEX is in meltdown mode, and all YP advertising contracts now include automatic renewals, a sure sign the industry is ready to fold and is set to burn their customers as a final act of greedy chutzpah.

    While a very few businesses still benefit from YP, it’s easily gone from one of the best to the absolute worst advertising option out there. The online YP are a joke designed by idiots who don’t get the joke.

    If your employer advertises in the YP, suggest to them that they ditch their YP ads and use half that money to distribute novelty advertising items (pens, caps, etc.) to their employees to circulate within the community. Their company will benefit from such a move and you’ll be able to avoid buying pens for a while.

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  14. For all of you sending your personal information to this website, beware that the whois information and a google maps view of the associated address indicates that the organization is being run by a single individual. This is not to discount the efforts of this person, but only to serve as a caution to all of you have just sent this person your personal information. As far as I can tell from the website, the person has no official relationship with the distributors of the yellow pages and there is no guarantee that you will stop receiving phone books…yet those of you have signed up have just given this person detailed address info.

  15. Nick (if that is your real name), isn’t it kind of ironic that you’re attacking an organization while posting anonymously? It seems strange to me that you care enough to look out for us yet won’t do so under your own name. What’s your motivation?

    Beyond that, I think you’re assumptions are a bit much. Just because an individual registered a domain doesn’t mean there isn’t more than one person behind the site built at that domain name. it just means that one person bought the domain under their own name.

    And even if there is only one person behind it, that’s awesome, in my opinion. It goes to show that one person can help make a difference in this world.

    The site readily admits that it isn’t affiliated directly with YP’s. It’s set up to be a clearinghouse for unsubscription options.

  16. We need our city council people to get behind this movement and stop the carpet bombing of paper pulp. Thanks, as always, for making reference to my blog and you know you are my hero, Ed, when it comes to volunteer graffiti abatement.

  17. My name is Philip Cantwell and I started the organization http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org. Nick and everyone else that has posted here can contact me at our site at anytime and we will get back to you. We are NOT affiliated with the Yellow Page Publishers. We are a 3rd party organization that contacts the publishers on behalf of people that sign up at http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org to stop the delivery of books. Some of the publishers accept the request and some do not. We have had thousands of signs up and continue to get hundreds per day.

    Nick the domain search does list back to me as a single person because I grabbed it when I saw it was available and have not gone back and changed the registry.

    http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org has worked with organizations around the world in setting up similar sites to stop the unsolicited deliver of telephone books. We are currently working with some local governments on the proper working of ordinances to ban the unsolicited delivery of telephone books and have been contacted by a US Senator who wants to review our registry system.

    We have been in contact with Ken Clark, who has been mentioned several times in post above. Ken has taken a hard line against http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org and has refused to post our site and opinions on his blog. He is actively trying to rally the 50,000 people of the telephone industry to thwart attempts to change the industry from a saturation based distribution process to an opt out or opt in program.

    Consumers can “opt out” of receiving telephone books at http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org. We will contact the publishers and inform them to stop delivering books. This is a free service for consumers. http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org is working with state and local governments on ordinances concerning the delivery of unsolicited telephone books. http://www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org is not against the telephone books but against the delivery of 4 to 5 pounds of paper on people’s door step 5 to 6 times per year and being told it is our responsibility to recycle something we did not ask for. If we need a book we will call. Otherwise I “opt out” from receiving it.

  18. The best option is to find a reply-paid postal address for the publisher or telco then bundle up a stack of them and send them back. They will get charged for the postage.

    The more who do that the less profitable printing up these phonebooks will become and it will force an examination of the actual demand for them.

  19. Doreen, thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, Yellowbook has been failing to honor the do not distribute lists they maintain. It would be nice if they’d start treating city residents and local businesses with more respect by distributing directories to only those who still find them valuable in 2009. Unfortunately, Yellowbook doesn’t seem capable of fulfilling their promises.

  20. I work for one of the larger telco publishers and we fail to honor opt out requests. The phone book delivery reps are contract workers who get paid by the number of directories they deliver, based on the grid they are given. It would be difficult to filter out these opt-outs. Before, only those who had a land line with that carrier received a telco phone book – but now with so many people and businesses using a cell phone alone – or a phone service from the cable company or voice over IP – it now is a blanket delivery approach. The good news is that as our company gets poorer and continues to lose money, they keep on cutting distribution numbers – so now, when I contact customers, many of them have not seen a new book from us for 2 or 3 years. So maybe the opt out requests will get honored, just by our own cut backs!

  21. @Curtis, yellow pages companies run spot checks to make sure the books are delivered. Back when I delivered books, the tactic of choice was to put some fake addresses on the delivery route that you had to mark as non-existent as a way to prove you actually visited the neighborhood. Creating systems that accounted for non-delivery to opt-out properties wouldn’t exactly be rocket science. In fact, YP companies in the UK have been doing this for years, as a YP employee mentioned in the comments of one of the YP related posts here sometime in the past.

  22. Ed, thanks for the response. Creating systems and actually implementing them and then following up to make sure the system is working are three different things. Rocket science is not needed to create a non delivery opt out system – but when a company is so short-handed due to layoffs and cut backs and one hand does not know what the other hand is doing and many are contractors and work is outsourced – well, that makes it difficult for John Q. Public’s request of opt out to be honored. I know, as I have been trying to opt out of our and other direct mail publications for some time now. What a waste of paper – just as bad as the print YP product. I call the publishers and they say it’s controlled by the list companies. I call the list companies and they refuse to remove me from their data base. I fill out opt out forms and I even had paid one site and I still receive these packets that go right into a landfill. And I work for one of the offenders and that does not sit well with me, believe me.

  23. @Curtis, that’s strange about your direct mail experiences. I’ve had no problem getting myself removed from direct mail. ProQuo seemed to have helped, although I think they went under. Look for other opt-out services similar to that.

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  25. Thanks for posting this.

    I just got my phone books in the mail today, and spent about 20-30m going to their site, searching around for ways of being removed from their service. I used the link you provided at the bottom of the page to help.

    Reading some of the comments by Ken, and I understand his position to a degree. I don’t feel that these should be banned from existence, but really here’s the crux of the matter. If I don’t open the books (which I rarely do – I think I opened a phone book, for the local police, once in the last 4 years), and I use the internet, why do I need these books? Usually I tend to leave them in their plastic bag and toss them immediately into the recycle bin. For those people who use it, fantastic, please keep doing it. For me, it’s so much faster to type in the business name into google and my city and have it give me all local businesses with that name. It takes me far less time to do that, plus I get directions to the place in question. If I went by the yellow pages, I’d have to find the place/address, and likely look up in the maps how to get there. Given I don’t know these roads well, even after 4+ years living here, it’s better just to have google maps for that even.

    It’s part eco for me, but it’s really mostly just what’s most convenient and simple.

  26. You’re missing the point — you cannot have an opt-in system, because while I personally find the yellow pages to be outdated, there are still millions of homes in the USA without internet. How exactly should those people, relatively but off, opt-in? The yellow pages, while a ginormous waste of paper, DOES keep people connected who otherwise would be cut off. Opt-out should just be better-publicized.

  27. @Julia, I don’t think it would be very difficult to create a system where people could opt-in without using the internet. For example, yellow pages could include opt-in postcards stuck to the cover of the next phone books they spam indiscriminately. Anyone who actually brought the phone book into their home would see the postcard and could simply write their address on it and stick it in the mail if they wanted continued deliveries. Done. Problem solved. No internet needed.

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