Confession: I Have Delivered Phone Books

Okay, I admit it. While I’m a huge advocate for changing the delivery policies of phone book companies, I’ve previously worked on the dark side of this industry as a phone book delivery person.

This would have been around 1990-1992. I’m pretty sure I did it more than one summer with my brother and a few other friends.

As BT pointed out in the comments here, the job is generally on contract where the delivery people pay for their own cars or trucks, gas, insurance, repairs, and maintenance. Routes vary in size and the pay per route varies a bit.

When I was doing this, the book pickup location was somewhere near downtown St. Paul, and I believe the books were from US West. We would look through the available routes to find ones that were nearby but not in particularly rough neighborhoods. So we generally ended up delivering routes on streets like Groveland near Victoria’s Crossing in St. Paul.

This was in the pre-web era, so phone books were actually quite valuable compared to today. As I remember it, we delivered one set of yellow and white pages to every home plus an additional set to homes that had more than one phone line.

The distribution company kept us honest by putting a few false-positive addresses on the route that needed to be noted. Our pay would either be docked or unpaid if we didn’t note the false-positives. We never missed one so I’m not sure exactly how that would go down.

If the delivery process remains similar today as to how it was done then, it certainly should be possible to create routes for delivery people that exclude homes based on an opt-out or opt-in list. However, that will only work if there are incentives built into the system to reward/punish delivery people for delivering to addresses on the do-not-deliver list.

If you’re considering picking up some work delivering phone books, make sure you take the cost of operating your car or truck into consideration. Idling down the street with a very heavy load of books is going to get shitty mileage and cause significant wear and tear on your vehicle. The IRS puts the cost of driving at 50.5 cents/miles so keep that in mind when picking routes. If you make $10 on a route that takes an hour and is 5 miles round trip, you’re really making closer to $7.50.

In my case, my parents supplemented the car cost in order to get me and my brother out of the house and earning at least some money rather than playing video games all day.

4 thoughts on “Confession: I Have Delivered Phone Books”

  1. As of July 1st, the rate is 0.585 $/mile – even worse. Now you’re at 7.07/hour.

    The moral cost, however, remains incalculable.

  2. Yeah, and I’ve worked for slumlords and been a harsh critic of the police in OTHER cities. People change and evolve in light of their present environment and circumstances. This confession doesn’t make you a weaker advocate against phone book dumping–“phone book delivery spam” if you insist on your own term–but a better one.

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