Yellow Pages Discussing the “Opt-Out Movement”

Can the Yellow Pages successfully move away from print?

If so, one of the things they’ll have to get used to is what they, internally, refer to as the “Opt-Out Movement” – people who no longer with to receive phone books for a variety of reasons.

So, you think they’d put together a progressive team to work on the issue. Here are the leaders from their most recent industry conference, Directional Media Strategies ’08.

Session B: Dealing With the Opt-Out Movement
Publishers are beginning to proactively offer opt-out as an option for consumers who don’t want to receive a print directory in order to stave off more draconian restrictions. In Norway and the United Kingdom, opt-out has been actively promoted, yet only about 5 percent of the population has actually opted out of home delivery.
Bottom-Line Questions: What is Yellow Pages’ real impact on the environment? How should publishers respond to this movement? What are the prospects for mandated opt-out or opt-in programs around the world?
Ken Clark, Publisher, YP Talk
Amy Healy, Director, Public Policy, Yellow Pages Association
Peter Rand, Operations Director, Link Direct
John Rafferty, COO, Canpages
Moderator: Bobbi Loy-Luster, VP and Senior Analyst, The Kelsey Group

Who are these people?

Ken Clark: a guy who think Gen X & Y people don’t get it because the don’t look up information in books. He believes everyone should get carpet bombed with phone books because you never know when you’re going to want to use one.

Amy Healy: She’s the one who puts fire icons on top of states who dare attempt to legislate opt-out policies for phone book delivery.

Peter Rand: Founded a company in the UK that specializes in “Door Drop Marketing” and brags about “door dropping” 8 billion print pieces a year including heavy pieces like BT’s phone books.

John Rafferty: Canpages is owned by a Dallas, TX based private equity firm that also owns oil and gas exploration companies. I’m not sure how much Texas environmentalism that trickles down into Canpages culture, but I see no opt-out forms on their site or any blog posts discussing opt-out or Canpages’s impact on the environment on their year-old blog. But they do boast about delivering 7.2 million directories per year.

The only person I’ve been able to find who’s making any sense in this industry is a woman in Norway, Wenche Holen, who made this statement last year:

“It is not good to force people to take directories they don’t want,” Holen said.

What a radical concept.

Of course, since she works for a YP company, Holen still has her faults. She may think it’s wrong to force people to receive directories they don’t want, but she still thinks it’s okay to force people to opt-out of directories rather than having an opt-in system where people simply request them if they actually want them.

28 thoughts on “Yellow Pages Discussing the “Opt-Out Movement””

  1. And walk away from customers? That doesn’t seem to realistic. Millions of advertisers depend on the ROI and new customers they get from their YP advertising. And in this economy, they need all the buyers they can get. Yes, the folks who defend the industry work for the industry. Go figure. And taking a slide out of context is such an easy way to gin up interest. Opt-out is there for the using. Full disclosure, I work for the Yellow Pages Association, where we provide research from valid third-party studies, not opinion.

  2. All of these folks are people trying to save an industry that is clueless. We, as consumers, have the power to flip the switch OFF. SMBs, as advertisers, also have the power to flip the switch OFF. JUST SAY NO!

  3. Great points, SHobbs.

    Quick question for you: What ROI do advertisers receive from phone books delivered to people who no longer want them? Why do they have to shoulder the cost of printing, transporting, and delivering phone books to vacant houses with rotting phone books on their steps.

  4. We don’t believe it’s good practice to deliver directories to people who don’t want them. The truth is a lot of people do want them and do use them, and we’re concerned that a vocal minority is creating a false perception about directory usage that just isn’t supported by research. But to address questions like yours, industry publishers have agreed to a set of guidelines that call for more choice in which directories you do or don’t receive. We’re making good progress and the best thing to do is to call your local publisher at the number listed in the directory to see how you can be removed from the distribution list. We believe this is a better approach than a patchwork of costly state-run systems.
    Amy Healy, Yellow Pages Association

  5. Amy, if I might respond here to clarify things for you.

    You are not making good progress.

    If you had read this and related threads, you would see that calling the local publisher DID NOT WORK.

    Also, you would see that carpet-bombing yellow pages through neighborhoods is like putting a sign on each house for criminals and homeless to know where they can go to steal copper or squat.

    Your YP distribution approach needs to change from your innocent 1950’s neighborhood model…now…not in your terms of ‘making good progress’.

    Lacking responsiveness and adequate progress from corporations is what causes people contact their legislators to get laws enacted to force companies to improve…do you want that? What if the legislator comes back with OPT-IN SOLUTION to your distribution problem, will that satisfy your firm?

    In the meantime, nothing changes in our neighborhoods, the carget bombs continue, and citizens like us get mad and lash out at the lack of progress from the big bureacratic corporations like Verizon, Dex, and Yellow Pages Association.

  6. Here is a link to powerpoint presentation done by Amy Healy outlining the strategy to stop the opt out programs from taking hold.

    Notice how Amy shows how the industry efforts to stop legislation ends with a the bold red WIN comment.

    Instead of fighting people who do not want a book would not it be easier to allow people to opt out at a site like

  7. Of course Amy Healy uses the word WIN in her PowerPoint presentation! Question: if fewer and fewer people receive a copy of the Yellow Pages, is it:

    a) Good for her industry; or

    b) Bad for her industry?

    An industry which employs countless thousands of people, at a time of serious economic difficulties. She’s quite right: it’s not good practice to deliver directories to people who don’t want them; but it’s also not good practice to make life harder for business at a time like this.

    A general point. Some of the rhetoric used about the Yellow Pages industry on this blog is beyond belief. Anyone would think they were trying to sell tobacco to underage kids or something! Of course the environment is important; but so is protecting people’s jobs, and an economy which distribution of the Yellow Pages very obviously benefits. And when it comes to the environment, which is likely to have a more significant effect?

    a) Mass consumption of oil;

    b) China and India belching out heaven only knows what in terms of fossil fuels over the next few decades;

    c) Mass distribution of a yellow book?

    And you guys think this is such a big deal that legislation is needed?! Seems to me that Amy Healy is just doing her job, and the dragons for the environmental or privacy movement to slay lie very much elsewhere.

  8. Shaun, a more forward-thinking industry would realize that they’re better off not printing and distributing directories to people who don’t plan on using them. Doing so hurts the environment and their customers.

    The argument that people should continue to be employed making things that people no longer want makes no sense to me.

    Perhaps your argument that there are worse environmentally damaging industries than the YP industry is justification for the YP industry’s behavior in your mind? I’ve never had good luck saying that someone else is worse as a defense strategy.

  9. Except that as Amy and SHobbs have said above, plenty of people DO want directories; far, far more than this website appears to give credit for. There’s also the question of what impact legislation would have on small businesses, bazillions of whom rely on the Yellow Pages to advertise their services: funny, I thought the environmental movement was often about standing up for the little guy?

    Meanwhile, the industry is changing in any case. We all need to look after the planet so much better, and from what I’ve read, the YP industry hardly denies or even resists this. It’s obvious it’ll slowly move towards being web-based over time – but poorly drafted legislation often does more harm than good, and in the argument between jobs and the frankly negligible impact this has on the environment in the great scheme of things, jobs have to prevail. If you get a directory you don’t want, just send it for recycling – or does individual responsibility not count any more?

  10. Shaun, I’m not anti-phone book. I’m anti- sending of phone books to people who no longer want them.

    What makes you suggest that the legislation proposed in Minnesota is poorly drafted? It seems perfectly reasonable to me and would have zero impact if phone book companies simply didn’t deliver to people who no longer find the books useful.

    To me, sticking up for the little guy in this situation involves helping small businesses by only delivering books to prospective customers. Delivering a book to those who don’t use it hurts the little guy.

    I’m seeing a lot of straw-man arguments out of you, Shaun. What I’m looking for out of the YP industry is perfectly reasonable to anyone other than people with a vested interest in maintaining inflated distribution numbers.

  11. If that legislation leads in any way to people losing their jobs or advertisers or small businesses suffering, it’ll have done something it clearly isn’t intended to do: hence my terming it as “poorly drafted” (I meant potentially so). And again, Ed – the “vested interest” you so deplore involves protecting many, many jobs! How you can dismiss that as a straw man argument at a time like this is just beyond me.

    Two correspondents who know what they’re talking about have been on here already stating the research simply does not back up what you claim. As for myself: I don’t work in the YP industry, and have some sympathy with environmental issues in general. But what you advocate seems to involve taking a sledgehammer to a nut: in all seriousness, how big a deal is it if someone receives a phonebook they don’t want?

    A general point. No-one is under any illusions as to the seriousness of climate change, nor the need for us all to do more. Much more. But a few phone books being delivered which aren’t wanted in the first place or a few people flying when they could otherwise stay at home isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference! Global warming is partly man made, or at least, man accelerated – but also much longer term: we’re in the middle of an interglacial period which has lasted, oh, only about 18,000 years so far.

    Does this mean we should do nothing? Of course not. But does it also mean all sorts of businesses will be singled out in daft ways when what is required of them will make little or no material difference to the environment? Yes, I’m afraid it does. You can bet your life it’ll provide a wonderfully convenient excuse for politicians to raise your taxes over the decades ahead too. I’m no Republican either, by the way: just someone who thinks the real priorities lie elsewhere, and that needlessly making life harder for essentially reasonable businesses (as opposed to rampant gas guzzlers or fossil fuel emitters) lies very, very far down the list.

    PS. How does “delivering a book to those who don’t use it hurt the little guy”? Seriously – how?

  12. Shaun, the legislation is designed to hold the YP industry accountable to what they claim they do: offer opt-out options for people who no longer wish to receive phone books. Give it a read. You seem to be relying on what you THINK the legislation says rather than reading it and pointing out specific things that are wrong with it.

    In all seriousness, why should people have to spend a second of time dealing with something they have no interest in dealing with? Do not call lists have been an effective tool for giving people control over how they’re marketed to. Applying the same rational logic to the YP industry is not a sledgehammer approach. It simply solves a problem the industry has proven unwilling to solve on their own (other than talking the talk).

    1 Million Hours

    The time involved in recycling the one, two, three or more phone books received annually isn’t great per household. Let’s assume that 10% of households no longer with to receive phone books. As two minutes per book disposal per household per year, that’s 2 * 3 * 10,000,000 minutes of wasted time in America alone. One million hours wasted disposing of phone books they’d rather not receive, don’t plan to use, and do nothing but waste the money of the advertisers within the books.

    Personally, I think we’re capable of working on more than one issue at the same time. If you’d rather work on issues related to gas guzzlers, go for it.

    The little guy, in this case, are the local businesses who are paying for ads in a large and growing percentage of books that didn’t need to be printed or distributed because they will never be used.

    I do understand that some people within the print YP industry will lose their jobs as the industry continues to shrink. I’m not interested in protecting jobs that are becoming obsolete. Perhaps employees who become victims of market forces will find jobs at local businesses who have more money to hire employees now that they’re spending less on yellow pages advertising? Paying people to do work that no longer has value can only go on for so long.

  13. I’ve seen the legislation, Ed. The thing is, if you look at Amy Healy’s presentation linked to above, the YP industry are clearly serious about acting on this: nor is it just an environmental issue in any case. I would guess that they’re opposed to direct legislation because they know these things take time to get used to, and mistakes will happen. $500 for every book wrongly delivered seems too much to me; and last year, a few states even seemed set on opt-IN legislation, which is utterly insane (because human nature dictates that people are far, far more likely to opt out of something they don’t want, rather than opt into something they do. For example: how many protests can you recall FOR the Iraq war during the build-up, even though a majority of the American people were in favour at that point?).

    Your argument that businesses will save so much money through this scheme they’ll have enough to employ those who lose their jobs seems like fantasy land to me, I’m afraid – how many businesses are hiring at all at present? I also think there’s a difference between people having something delivered outside their door that they don’t want, or being subjected to nuisance calls or spam emails – though I accept that’s just a personal view.

    I live in England – though am someone who takes a huge interest in American affairs, hence my chancing upon this blog. Here, we recycle each week, are in line with our Kyoto targets (or so I believe), and have a pretty reasonable record on green issues over recent years. The Yellow Pages are just as ubiquitous here as anywhere else – so what I don’t get is why there’s been no fuss at all over directories people don’t want. Phone books, Thomson Local Directories and the Yellow Pages are still a key reference point for most people here: what’s so different about the US?

  14. Shaun, the YP industry is talking the talk more than they’re walking the walk. People who’ve unsubscribed continue to receive phone books. Vacant homes do as well. It’s hurting communities, the environment, and local businesses. All they have to do is do what they say they do in order to avoid being fined. How hard can that be?

    Why is opt-in insane? People who want phone books would get them. Businesses would benefit from only paying for the costs of books people have chosen to receive. If you sent an email to every email user in the world and said it was okay because it was opt-out you’d probably end up fined or in jail. But it remains an acceptible practice in the YP industry. Why is it insane when applied to the YP industry but acceptible to have opt-in standards elsewhere? Spam is spam whether it’s electronic or print.

    As for opt-in wars, that’s an interesting concept but hardly relevant.

    I don’t see how you can argue against my statement that businesses would be capable of hiring more people if they had lower costs.

    Your description of the eco-efforts in England sound similar to what we have in Minneapolis, but standards and interests vary greatly by city and state in the United States. Here’s an example of someone in Glasgow venting similar frustrations. One difference in the US may be caused by new directories. For example, I receive three large worthless yellow pages directories per year.

  15. Are you seriously suggesting that one business would save so much they’d be able to fund an entire person’s annual salary? (The average American salary being $32,000 according to 2005 statistics). Meanwhile, the point I made regarding opt-ins referred to human nature: not everyone who wanted a YP would get one, because lots of people either forget or just can’t be bothered, in all areas of life.

    I guess a different standard is applied to the YP because, well, the books are intended to help so many people: both consumers and advertisers. In the case of most spam, if its one narrow objective doesn’t interest you, it’s a waste of time – but does that really apply to the YP?

    Finally – as the presentation linked to above again showed, legislators in a number of states backed down after the YP industry had made their arguments, and convinced them of their commitment to act on this. Their arguments must have held some water then, presumably?

  16. No, they could just give employees they have raises, or pay them for more hours.

    So, because human nature tells us that some wouldn’t be bothered to opt-in, they should be forced to receive as many books from as many manufactures sent them, spend time opt-ing out only to find that they’re still receiving books? Do you want to live like that?

    Yellow pages don’t help but hurt people who don’t want them. They actually hurt everyone in the community because we share the environmental costs and costs of disposal.

    Their arguments may have help some water, or bought them some time, and may have been accompanied by some campaign donations.

  17. Or alternatively, given that politics is the art of the possible, what usually results is compromise rather than shock therapy. The test of the YP industry now is whether they can ensure opt-out DOES work, whether in states where it’s enforced by regulation or in states where it’s not. I’d rather live in a world where we don’t make life stupidly difficult for business where (in my opinion) it isn’t warranted – though that just brings us back to where we began.

    And sure, businesses would make savings – but as you’ve acknowledged above, hardly enough to employ those who lose their jobs from the printing side of the industry, which you appeared to suggest earlier. The broader question is whether the economy as a whole benefits or suffers from fewer and fewer people having a copy of the Yellow Pages; and on that, we’ll just have to see.

    A general question: what’s Minneapolis’ record like for environmental issues, Ed? I ask out of pure ignorance. I read somewhere that Las Vegas’ is surprisingly good (especially when it comes to water conservation), and somewhere like Kansas City, MO is making small steps, but is something of a nightmare given the way it’s built. How does where you are compare?

  18. Shaun ventures = “I’d rather live in a world where we don’t make life stupidly difficult for business….”

    And that is where this all began Shaun, when The Deets first posted, it was not the beginning of some pre-planned, subversive, anti-business, pro-politics campaign. Quite simply, he identified a business stupidly making life difficult, and choose to inform them…only to find out why they were stupidly making life difficult.

    We too would rather live in a world where we don’t make life stupidly difficult for business, but then businesses like YP stupidly make life difficult for us, and we refuse to lay there and take it anymore…thus, blog postings are born to open the eyes of the sheep at YP and sheep in the general public who have just been groaning every time a new unwanted YP showed up three times per year, and we are looking for it to stop.

    The fact that YP is not responsive to the public, the fact they waste their business advertisers money, the fact they cannot build a working opt-in or opt-out process, the fact they carpet-bomb neighborhoods regardless of people occupying a third of the houses they toss YPs at, the fact they are using a 1980s model of business, the fact they cannot seem to make a change until threatened by political action…shall I go on, or will you accept the fact that YP will not change by their own good business planning?

    In the meantime, it looks like yet another american business dinosaur that will be less than an interesting fossil in less than a decade, that will be little more than a management case study in ‘how rigidity in business processes destroy once profitable corporations.’

    But, other than that, I think you understand this situation Shaun.

  19. As Ed may recall from the original post, I was one of the panel who shared a platform at Atlanta to discuss this subject, and am described thus:

    “Peter Rand: Founded a company in the UK that specializes in “Door Drop Marketing” and brags about “door dropping” 8 billion print pieces a year including heavy pieces like BT’s phone books.”

    Apart from the 8 billion figure (would be a lot richer were that what we delivered!), it’s an accurate portrayal but “bragging” is not something I tend to do. I’m proud of our company and its achievements, yes.

    Like Shaun, I’m from the UK – so dependent on where Shaun lives, there is a chance we may be delivering copies of one or two of his directories.

    Market forces are shaping events currently as print directories look at ways of reducing costs (print and distribution are the main direct costs) – and therefore the opt-out (already in place in the UK for all three products) is not seen as a threat, given the numbers involved overall – as I mentioned at the time of my presentation, 70% of the households who get in touch with our directory customers do so to request a copy not yet delivered rather than to stop delivery. Opt-out requests are growing but not unmanageably so.

    One of my points at the time was that this could be a (forgive the phrase) win-win situation for publishers if they approach it properly – save print, target delivery, don’t deliver to people who don’t want a book.

    In the UK, we do have working opt-out systems which have been in place for a number of years now. The situation you have in the US with the proliferation of new printed directories in recent times is I think one of the main issues. And there definitely ought to be a uniform workable opt-out procedure signed up to by all publishers and preferably one that they create themselves – otherwise others will do it for them.

    There are evangelists at both ends of this polarised argument, but I think the majority of us will end up meeting in the middle as market forces force the contraction of the printed market in comparison to online.

    Publishers are already realising they need to target delivery a lot more effectively , make products more local, and they maybe need to convince their own organisation – rather than advertisers – of the benefits of not delivering do people who are not going to use the books.

    PS Ed – Despite my working for the Dark Side, since you gave me a mention in October I have been a regular visitor – very entertaining..!

  20. There’s much wisdom in what Peter’s had to say. However Mike – if you’re not evangelists, and take exception to being dismissed as such, maybe this website should stop employing such extreme terms as ‘spam’ and especially ‘carpet bombing’? It’s extremely hard to believe you’re “just giving YP good business advice” when this place seems so utterly obsessed by it, and Ken Clark’s blog (which I found my way to yesterday via a link from here) is more or less being spammed (oh, the irony) by Ed.

    In terms of Mike’s reply to me above: isn’t this a sign that the YP ARE putting working opt-outs in place?

    And mightn’t the management case study instead merely be about an ageing industry inevitably pushed into the buffers by the rampant pace of change?

    More generally – Peter’s clearly right that the proliferation of various directories has caused much of the problem. He’s also right that most people will end up meeting in the middle. Sometimes I sit back and detachedly regard the chatter on here, rebuttals from Ken Clark, legislation proposals in various states, environmental movement in one corner and the YP industry in the other as all part of the same merry (well, mostly merry) circus. All are necessary; all gradually take us towards the inevitable compromises and eventual solutions. Maybe, in some weird way, you even all need each other.

    And solutions are slowly beginning to emerge – with the truth of the matter being somewhere in between what’s espoused by Ed or Mike, and what’s espoused by Ken. As for myself: the other day, a phone book was pushed through my door, perhaps even delivered by one of Peter’s people. It was a reassuringly familiar part of life. I doubt I’ll use it – it’s currently still sitting in its plastic wrapper on my coffee table. But the sky didn’t fall in; the planets remained aligned. And personally, despite the undeniably edifying experience this discussion has been (seriously, I mean that!), I still sympathise less with the position of Ed or Mike, and more with this brilliant post from jaime (8th comment in the link below):

  21. Nice comment Peter. If I might correct some misconceptions (and speak hopefully accurately for Ed)–we are not evangelists, nor are we offering polarized arguments–quite simply, we are trying to give YP good business advice, so their level of denial of reality will not lead to a sudden and uncontrolled market collapse ala the mortgage market or the newspaper business. They should address the market instead of denying the change that is upon them.

    So Opt-out exists and is working in the UK–I am curious how it occurred, was it forced on UK YP by citizen action, business advertiser action, government action, or skillful YP business planning?

  22. Peter, thanks for the comment. It seems obvious to everyone outside of the YP industry that the YP industry would run into less complaints from people like me who no longer want the directories AND manage to run a lower cost operation by only delivering the books to people interested in using them. It reminds me of struggling newspapers who are doing everything they can to keep their circulations artificially high through heavy discounts, hotel and school deliveries. I stepped over yet another newspaper (USA Today this time) leaving my hotel this morning in Dayton, OH. The only action it got was from my luggage rolling over it.

    Shaun, Ken consistently posts about the YP industries recycling efforts on a blog where he pretends to be green, and I consistently reply stating that the industry should move upstream in the waste cycle to reduce production on unwanted phone books. That’s spam? To me, it’s a well-balance meeting of a guy who promotes producing waste and someone who thinks that’s ridiculous.

    If working on a problem until it’s solved qualifies as an obsession, guilty as charged.

    Proliferation of directories isn’t the problem. It just makes the problem worse.

    Solutions aren’t slowly beginning to emerge. They’ve been around forever but haven’t been implemented.

    I can’t expect to find common ground with someone who gladly receives something he doesn’t want, then argues for more of the same. However, it’s fun debating the differences.

  23. Oh, don’t get me wrong Ed. This is a very entertaining blog, and I’m happy to have discovered it; plus I certainly had my tongue in my cheek when posting earlier, as often befits Brits like me. It’s just that, well, when I popped over to Ken’s blog yesterday, it was a case of “oooh, a reply from Ed”. “And another one”. “And another one…” I don’t doubt your integrity for a moment – but loosely speaking, essentially repeating the same thing over and over again on someone else’s blog could easily be construed as spam by some (only loosely mind you, otherwise I’d better take a good look in the mirror!).

    Solutions are being implemented now because of pressure, as is almost always the case with business, and why blogs or especially movements and pressure groups serve an important purpose. I absolutely think the amount of directories now available has a lot to do with it though: if you’re an advertiser or small local business, what can you do but spend money on advertising in ALL of them, no matter how much it costs or how potentially minimal the benefits?

  24. Hi Mike – in response to your question about why publishers in the UK have implemented opt-out – it was done some years ago as part of an existing business process aimed at supplying “special requests” to business and households that wanted something other than the 1 delivery per address standard model. – We (as a delivery supplier) are given before each delivery, a detailed list of people/addresses who have such requests.

    We integrate this data with the postal address data so that our distributors receive specific and obvious instructions (for example) not to deliver to a certain address or conversely to deliver 10 copies to a certain business if they request it.

    It’s fair to say that the original process was not “aimed” at opt-out requests but it has been able to include that as part of the process.

    I must also say that my customers (the publishers) are seriously not happy if we as a supplier deliver something to someone when we have been asked not to – so we tend not to – all distributors are given training on the do’s and don’ts of how to deliver directories just before the start of delivery. Among these are included issues such as this but also other related items such as leaving books left visible from the street, disposing of delivery-related litter, etc.

    And the public do tell us if we get it wrong, which we occasionally do..!

    Hope this helps.

  25. Thanks Peter, it helps quite a bit. I think it is safe to conclude that the UK delivery is exponentially more efficient and professionally done, and would serve as a good model for american YP if they had the sense to follow it before the YP bubble bursts here from the pressure of the built-in senselessness american YP management conveys. Cheers!

  26. Ed, I read your comments and replies post on that Ken guy’s blog before i found you here. I too am trying to stop CanPages from carpet bombing my home and office and I cannot find anywhere to opt out of the delivery system? How do we do it?
    we must start the trend that grows so that soon you have to opt in for delivery
    and finally nobody wood

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