Does Ken Clark Understand the Modern Yellow Pages Industry?

I left a comment over on YP Industry advocate Ken Clark’s blog the other night regarding how funny it is that phone book companies are arguing that white pages should be discontinued because nobody uses them anymore, while the yellow page should still be delivered to the masses because . . . well . . . follow the money.

Funny thing: Ken responded to my comment without first approving mine, so people visiting Ken’s site will see Ken responding to a ghost:

AT&T Gains Further Approvals to Discontinue White Pages « Yellow Pages Environmental Forum

Regardless, take a sec to read Ken’s response to my question about when yellow pages companies will start honoring the opt-out requests they receive. It seems like most companies now offer opt-out services, but do they actually use the lists they create? No, based on what I’ve seen. Ken seems to be taken aback by my accusation.

Rather than post another unapproved comment on Ken’s site, here’s my response:

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Ken, I’m referring to first person accounts from people who say they’ve called every year for four years, delivery people admitting that they ignore the lists, yellow pages companies littering boarded up properties with their spam, and a clear case of a resident in Denver who’s unsubscribed and continues to receive books.

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It’s really a mystery to me that someone as close to the yellow pages industry as Ken Clark wouldn’t have a better grasp of the yellow pages print spam problem caused by not honoring opt-out requests. If he’s truly this out of touch, I can understand why he has such a hard time understanding the frustrations of people who are fed up with his industry’s spam.

14 thoughts on “Does Ken Clark Understand the Modern Yellow Pages Industry?”

  1. It’s good you are giving him the benefit of the doubt but my guess is that he’s just trying to deflect your comment by giving his readers the impression you don’t know what you are talking about. In other words, I think he’s being less than honest so that the Yellow Pages can continue to sell ads in books that virtually no one reads (waste of paper and small business ad revenue).

  2. Ed the Yellow pages are a dead industry, trying to maximize revenue before their goose is fully cooked, just like video rental stores.

    The opt out lists will never work until the delivery people have an incentive “not” to just throw one on every porch.

    I once had a brief stint as a newspaper circulation district manager, let me tell you that while they are trying to make a living, print delivery sub contractors are generally not the most pot committed. Usually they are trying to make a quick buck and don’t give a flying f*ck about the opt out or subscriber lists.

  3. Eddie:

    I’m sorry my blogging skills aren’t as complete as you like. I will try to do better next time. Since I actually do have a real job that takes the bulk of my day, unlike you, I don’t live and breath for what is on the blog.

    I understand your frustration with the current situation. It’s very evident given you have 90% of the comments posted on my blog, the traffic for which continues to grow by the way — thanks. I appreciate having an opportunity to present the other side of the story you don’t want told.

    It’s probably best to just say that we’re going to agree to disagree. I’m not sure there is anything I can say or present to you and your followers where you wouldn’t believe the research has been slanted by the industry (which it hasn’t), that there is a significant base of people who still use the books and find great value in them (and no, they are not all over 80), that millions of small businesses who carefully monitor their advertising results continue to find the print Yellow Pages provide a superior ROI to even online (if it didn’t they would be moving that advertising in a heartbeat), and that the publishers/suppliers/agencies are all good stewards in their communities who are NOT just out to make a quick buck.

    Having visited the paper mills, the printing plants, and the publishers processing areas, I can only vouch for what I witnessed first hand — that each of these groups have numerous, stringent environmental requirements at the town, county, and federal level for which they must comply with to be able to operate, and that compliance is rechecked frequently. The people that work in these company’s live in these communities too. They have as much of a vested interest in the welfare and quality of life in those communities as any of your followers, perhaps even more so. It is the product of their labor you are attacking.

    As I have told you numerous times, the publishers are moving ahead with opt-out programs. Some are obviously in more advanced stages than others. And I have not doubt there are going to be situations where someone who didn’t want a book is still going to get some until the process is worked out. At end of day, it is just a phone book we are talking about. If you’re that unhappy with, take 30 seconds and put it in the recycling bin. Not other emotional or physical relationship is needed beyond that point. You are free.

    I have no doubt the publishers will continue to improve their internal processes as they have no desire to see a book which they have worked so hard on for countless hours, getting the information correct, formatted, and graphically pleasing to be laying waste, spoiled by the elements.

    And on the issue of the opt-out lists, if I was a publisher, which I am not, I would also consider the lists provided suspect based on the results I have seen. It is not the pristine process you have been lead to believe it is.

    Peace be with you.

  4. Ken, the ROI for local businesses on a book delivered to someone who doesn’t want it is zero. The same goes for books delivered to unoccupied homes. Or empty apartment units.

    I have no problem with attacking the labor used to generate waste.

    Please work to distribute the books to only those who want them. It’s better for local businesses and the environment. Is it that hard to understand?

    It’s time to give up your line about 3rd party opt-out programs. They work great for direct mail, catalogs, and telemarketing and would work fine for yellow pages as well if the industry wasn’t so hell-bent on preventing people from unsubscribing from something they never subscribed to in the first place.

  5. Ken,

    It’s refreshing to see someone from the Yellow Pages Industry respond so professionally to criticism which is so clearly ill-informed and off-track. Clearly your calm and collected response is a testament to the clear conscience with which you carryout your chosen calling.

    If Ed had a real job and a reputable life why would he pursue any blogpost that wasn’t helping him make money? Only an idiot would use the internet for anything but pure self-promotion. Right?

    As you close your eyes tonight counting the illspent advertising dollars jumping over your bed of discarded phonebooks you can rest assured that you have brought Ed Kohler and many of his wayward followers back from the brink of their support of local businesses and the environment.

  6. I advertised in the yellow pages the ROI was sh*t, I didn’t pick that media it was the status quo in a job that I entered. So was classified advertising…both of which are dying on the vine.

    While the idea of spamming residents and littering streets is bad enough…I am not sure if Ed has even touched the sleezy telemarketing tactics and the famous “this is not an invoice this is an offer…..” direct mail invoice look-a-likes from this industry.

  7. Perhaps Ken can provide us with his address, so that we can do a “direct marketing campaign” to demonstrate just how many people are getting phone books they don’t want.

  8. Ed seems to be operating all of his assumptions from the position that if someone doesn’t make a conscious effort to “want” the Yellow Pages then they shouldn’t have to “suffer” by receiving them. Unfortunately, this is naive and faulty reasoning.

    Nobody sits around “wanting” Dominos, Papa John’s or the local pizza place to drop a page of coupons in their mailbox, but we’ve all ended up using them at one point or another, right?…When the urge hit us. Nobody drives around hoping they will see a billboard announcing the latest sitcom to join the NBC lineup, but we’ve all glanced at the funny-looking cast and remembered to tune in, right?….When Thurs. at 9pm rolled around.

    It’s called advertising and it works for the businesses involved as well as the consumers. These businesses continue to do it and they continue to receive a valuable level of response.

    So how does this relate to the Yellow Pages. Well it reminds me of the old saying, There are no Atheists in Foxholes:

    There are no Yellow Page deniers in an emergency.

    All the whiners who keeping posting on their overly eco-panicked* blogs about not wanting the Yellow Pages are the first ones who will be running to the kitchen looking for one…
    when a pipe bursts in their bathroom…
    when a collapsed gutter is pouring rain on their porch during a rainstorm…
    when a snowstorm damages an electric pole…
    when a tree limb snaps and hangs by a thread…
    when they want to sue over the car that just crashed into the tree that knocked the electric pole that fell on their gutter that burst the pipe on the side of their house…

    I could also go age group by age group and think of numerous sudden or reoccuring needs…
    the 20-something that moves to a new town and needs EVERYTHING..before their DSL will be turned on in 30-90 days or god knows when…
    the senior who needs an assisted-care minivan taxi
    the boomer who needs a reputable Bankruptcy Attorney TOMORROW

    Needs arise, emergencies arise, sudden urgent problems arise and the situations become endless. But these advertisers don’t always need endless amounts of calls and “shoppers”. It may only be that 1 emergency job that pays for months of their program or even just that month’s ad.

    In any case, the Yellow Pages is there for that certain time when you have that certain situation where you need to know 2 or 3 or 4 really good businesses who can help you with their product or service fairly soon. It’s not Google. You’re not going to sit there and search and search and play with this app then jump to another app and then email your sister and then check the News and then go shop for some more Plumbers. No, sorry, the Yellow Pages is not that much fun. It’s not sexy or cool.

    But it is being used much much more in these specific circumstances, events, emergencies, sudden needs than Ed or any of us can predict, across the spectrum of age groups, income levels, etc. Ask the pizza place that just catered a huge Super Bowl party across town or the computer repair guy that just made $400 fixing my neighbor’s 2 laptops. (Or the hotel that emailed me that $199 promotion I didn’t request, but I’m sure glad I spent that weekend in Vegas.)

    Just because you THINK you don’t want a booklet of offers, promotions, coupons or something a bit larger like the Yellow Pages doesn’t mean you won’t have a true (often expensive) need for something in it pages. You just don’t know it yet.

  9. Jamie, I imagine your soliloquy would get a standing ovation if given at a yellow pages convention. However, here in the real world, people like me aren’t buying your worn out lines about how valuable your books are. I refer to it as spam because just like email spam, it’s something I need to spend time disposing of.

    Trying to make me a “believer” is going to be a long journey, considering that I’m at least 8 years phone book free now. And that’s certainly not due to the many chances I receive to welcome phone books into my home and into my life. Over that time, many of the anecdotes you described have happened to me. And get this: the gutter was repairs, the water is no longer pooling, and the tree branches are gone.

    I’m not a fan of Dominos Pizza, but I believe they run a great business. If I was to call them up and say, “Here’s the deal: I haven’t ordered a pizza from you in 17 years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, so you’re probably better off taking me off your direct mail lists.” guess what they’d do? They’d take me off. Why? Because it’s good for business to NOT market to people who are not responding to your messages.

    If I contact a company that sends me a catalog, they’ll gladly take me off their list. I can easily join the do not call registry. I can sign up with the direct market association to be removed from other forms of direct mail. All of these forms of opt-out requests work because most businesses realize that they’ve better off focusing on serving the people who actually want their product or services rather than trying to convince those who don’t that they should.

    People don’t use Google because it’s sexy and cool. It’s sexy and cool because it helps people solve problems.

    This is probably the most alarming line in your entire rant:

    “But these advertisers don’t always need endless amounts of calls and “shoppers”. It may only be that 1 emergency job that pays for months of their program or even just that month’s ad.”

    It shocks me that you’re proud of holding local businesses hostage. Do you really think it’s good for local businesses to work emergency jobs in order to pay for a yellow pages ad they were convinced they needed. It sounds like indentured servitude.

  10. I have been reading the posts on this topic with great interest, since it appears to be coming down to a battle of passion as to who is right or wrong in this. Ed makes valuable points about serving the advertisers, since at the end of the day; it is these businesses that have poured their money into the directories in the hopes of making their phones ring. They should be happy to know that the people that are receiving the directories are the ones that really want them. What is the point in spending ad dollars on something that someone does not want?

    Then there is Ken and Jaime. Yes, you are right about usage and people turning to the directories. If you look at the independent industry reports, they show that the Yellow Pages is the first place people turn to in an emergency situation, or a life changing event.

    There is no right or wrong when it comes to personal beliefs and what they choose to say when it comes to them. To force a person to feel one way or the other would be to deny them of their constitutional rights. The Freedom of Speech comes to mind right away.

    I personally am an advocate of the advertisers. It is what servers them the best that at the end of the day makes everyone happy.

    The problem with the Yellow Pages industry now, thanks to the government and their deregulation of the phone company, is that publishers are popping up everywhere. Many years ago, in a far simpler time, you got 1 phone book a year. Not a big deal if you ask me. Now there are areas of the country that are saturated with phone books coming from both the telecom and independent publishers. I personally get 4 a year. My cousin told me that she gets 6. Who in the world needs 6 phone books a year? That comes out to 1 every 2 months. Even the catalog companies don’t fire out that many a year, they go by seasons.

    So now we have part of the dilemma and one of the big reasons people are getting hostile about these giant 5 lb. books being thrown on their lawns and driveways. It is not once a year, it is every few months.

    So let’s go back and take a look at the advertisers now, who are ultimately the ones that are getting caught in the middle of this maelstrom of yellow paper. If an advertiser is in an area where there are 6 directories that they need to be in, out of fear that they are missing a potential customer, then they have to pay to be in every one. Industry usage reports show that there is no clear cut winner in any of this mess either. Each one has a cut of the pie.

    Since I happen to have ad rates available, lets look at a half page ad in a major area where there are 6 publishers. My total average cost, for both telecom and independent, would be over $60,000 (based on averages). That comes out to $5,000 a month just to advertise in the Yellow Pages. Based on an average 20% profit margin, the publishers are making $12,000 a year net profit off of this advertiser’s fear of loosing a client. (Rates are usually based upon distribution too I should note)

    You do the math now. Why in the world would a publisher want to reduce their delivery rate, when their rates are based on distribution? Why would you care if 3, 4, or even 5% of the people no longer want your directories if it meant that you could no longer bang the advertiser up the ass for what they are currently paying? Why would you care if your directories are dumped in vacant lots or boarded up buildings as long as the numbers are up there and you don’t have to change your distribution numbers and cut your rates?

    Who wins in all of this? It is not the advertiser that is for sure.

  11. Ed if you don’t use it, how can you proport yourself to be an expert? My guess is that the Internet interests are paying you to evangelize the demise of the YPs. I’ve seen it done in other industries. And, having advertised on the Internet, my sense is that the real opportunity to clean up listings and opt out resides with these companies, not the YPs — it’s a red herring. And, I am not paid by the YPs industry, I am the target market, and an avid Internet user. Having just tested the use of the YPs and the Internet, I found that I was able to find, quickly, a pool of more accurately presented potential providers of a new roof, than was available on Google.

  12. Ann, it doesn’t take a PhD in Yellow Pages advertising to realize that the ROI on a phone book delivered to a boarded up house is zero. Same goes for delivering books to people who’ve stated that they no longer use them. Local advertisers, tax payers, and the environment lose by having to deal with what is born as trash in the form of yellow pages spam.

    I don’t think the “Internet interests” need to pay anyone to “evangelize the demise of the YPs” since people seem to be perfectly willing to do so for free. Like me. Companies like Google aren’t crushing the YP industry due to bad PR. It’s because they’ve innovated at a faster rate than the YP companies and have won over consumers with a better search product.

    If you have better luck with a print directory, good for you. I’m not suggesting that your print directory should be taken away. Only that yellow pages companies should start treating local businesses better by not wasting their money delivering phone books to people who no longer use them (or can’t use them because the people don’t actually exist like in the case of abandoned homes).

  13. Matt, great point about the changes to the market and how it’s not exactly helping local businesses.

    I don’t think regulating the market down to one book is the answer. I think the market will correct itself as local businesses give up on YP advertising in favor of the many other marketing channels where they may be able to more cost-effectively reach their prospective customers.

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