The Yellow Pages One-Sided Religious War

A couple recent comments by yellow pages industry evangelist, Ken Clark, helped me come to the realization that rational arguments will never work with the people running print directory spam marketing. The reason for this is because they’re working in a faith based industry where rational arguments simply don’t connect with their financial belief system.

For example, Mr. Clark whines about the persecution of print spam and it’s supposedly unfair treatment in the media on his YPTalk site:

The paper atheists are incorrectly pounding away on the blogs and online news services (with little to no push back) that no one uses the books except for people over 70 and the misfortunate few that aren’t wired. The biggest news the industry seems to get these days is where you can find the local dumpsters to get rid of your books.

The YP industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s facing rational push back from people in communities around the world who are saying, “I don’t use this anymore. Could you please stop sending it to me?” The industry’s PR problem doesn’t come from a lack of skilled PR people and media connections – they certainly can finance the best money can buy – but are caused by the industry’s knack for creating negative news about itself by refusing to serve today’s consumers with the respect they are rationally requesting.

Sadly, rather than adapting to today’s market conditions, the industry continues to try to convince itself that Gen X and Gen Y folks are continuing to use yellow pages. I suppose if you are willing to believe that it’s easier to say it with a straight face to local businesses.

A recent essay by Paul Graham looked at the challenges caused by arguments that turn into religious wars. Once an argument degrades to relying solely on two individual’s belief systems, no one can be right and nothing can be solved.

Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs.

However, this particular religious war is one-sided. The arguments coming from the yellow pages industry described “yellow pages atheists” are not that of an opposing belief system. Instead, the anti-yellow pages “crusaders” are rational:

1. I don’t use yellow pages: please don’t deliver them to me.

2. I get too many yellow pages. Could you send me less?

3. No one lives in that house. See the boards on the windows? Please don’t leave yellow pages at that address.

4. I don’t plan on using the yellow pages. Let’s work together to save the environment just a bit here.

5. If my office had one set per floor, we’d be set. One per cube is kind of overkill, dontcha think?

These are all very reasonable requests and do nothing to tread on the rights on those who want yellow pages from having yellow pages in their lives.

Sadly, yellow pages believers like Ken Clark bring appear to be immune to such simple, rational, requests from people outside the industry. In fact, people yellow pages industry rep, Amy Healy, take pride in the industry’s success in preventing communities from rationally asking, “Dear Yellow Pages Industry: Please stop delivering your phone books to people who no longer want them, or to homes where no one lives.”

For this reason, it seems that legislation is going to be necessary in order to create the types of rational, reasonable changes that consumers, businesses, neighborhood groups, tax payers, and environmental groups have been asking for but have been unable to achieve through other means. Yellow Pages evangelists are simply incapable of self-regulation but likely will respond to market conditions where a financial penalty exists for who choose to not be good citizens by reasonable standards.

6 thoughts on “The Yellow Pages One-Sided Religious War”

  1. The only reason the YP industry can get away with this is that they still have some businesses/advertisers convinced that “there are over X million households” of YP users in the Twin Cities, with all of us who immediately recycle and that boarded up house counting as a household.

    It will take a few more years for some businesses – but most are figuring out that throwing trash on someone’s doorstep doesn’t necessarily result in visibility or business.

    Yellow Pages are a dying industry – it will just be a while before someone pulls the damn plug.

  2. I think, perhaps, that the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes” might describe the remaining YP industry defenders. They are clearly in distress and in a fight for their industry’s survival. As such, they are making extreme arguments that don’t allow for rational argument. I’m just wondering when we’ll hear Ken proclaim, “God told me to run a crappy/non-existent opt-out system and to deliver to clearly abandoned homes.”

  3. Ed,
    If you keep railing on the YP industry you are going to mess up my whole world. They send me a couple of phone books a year and I find them extremely useful. SOMETHING must start my fire in the wood stove. And the YP industry has been kind enough to give me fire starter, free of charge, that if used sparingly will last me the whole winter. I cant get newspapers delivered to my house so this could be considered a matter of LIFE AND DEATH!!!

  4. But, even atheists will have to admit that the YP rapture will occur before the real one, right?

    This is interesting to see the precipitous fall of all these industries (financial, newspapers, YP) that for years over-inflated their true sales numbers and ROI to the point now where the reckoning occurs. Instead of relying on real numbers, which while flatter would have allowed a gentler fall more easily explained with facts, now they are forced to layer lies upon lies to try to tap dance around the reality that people all around the world no longer turn to the yellow pages (except of course those emergencies like the couch falling on you when your cell phone is dead and only the yellow pages is available because you had used it to replace that couch leg that fell off the last time you moved).

    And then they try to profile a person like me as being way above the early adopter curve of new technology…what a joke…I barely touch my cell minutes; and I use computers–not because they are so geeky cool that I can impress my friends by not using YP–I use a computer because it replaces YP, it is more efficient and up-to-date. I don’t run around my computer and worship its power, I use it like a hammer and screwdriver, as a tool for my life. I don’t use YP, rarely did ever and certainly not since about 1999 when I stopped buying a home phone-line too.

    I don’t begrudge late-adopters continuing to use YP, but at this point, they are the ones who should OPT-IN for this archaic service.

  5. @The Other Mike, Neal Polachek from The Kelsey Group broke it down well this week near the end of a profile of Idearc Media’s CEO, Scott Klein:

    Yellow Pages companies — large and small, incumbent and independent — have spent nearly two decades burning goodwill and trust among their advertisers. Whether they were raising rates in the face of clear usage and/or distribution declines, or simply not being transparent and objective in planning a print Yellow Pages campaign, advertisers — large and small — are reluctant to “trust” Yellow Pages publishers.

    I have a hard time trusting Idearc (and their competitors) based on how they treat the public. It sucks to hear that they’ve also been abusing the trust of local businesses, but it’s not that surprising to find out.

  6. I sold Yellow Pages one summer. Not DEX, but a niche competitor in Iowa that had actually clobbered Bell at their own game. When I was young if you used the phone for business you had to get copies of the phone books for every town you called on. Statewide political campaigns had to buy every phone book in the state to build their calling lists.

    Hanson Directory came up with the idea of regional books and then did a pretty fair job of lumping the right communities together. Bell got hit hard enough that they also had to consolidate their books.

    This is the only time I am aware of that Yellow Pages publishers ever did anything to benefit the consumer. Theirs has always been an industry exclusively dedicated to maximizing revenue from an information monopoly, and they truly have no idea how to survive now that they have serious competition.

    They won’t make it online. They are inherently consumer unfriendly and I do not trust them to prioritize my search findings in an acceptable or complete manner. Even if they fix their problems [by copying a successful model], I wouldn’t trust them.

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