Does the Term “Spam” Apply to Print Yellow Pages’ Behavior?

Yellow Pages evangelist, Ken Clark, doesn’t think it’s fair to use the term “spam” to describe the unsolicited delivery of advertising to people around the country. According to his narrow reading of the definition, he thinks it only applies to email and relies upon the following descriptions from Wikipedia to support his argument (I wonder if Ken realizes that he’s using definitions from Wikipedia’s page called “Spam (electronic)“):

1) “….Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.
2) “…Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high….’

Regardless, I think it’s pretty darn clear to anyone paying attention that the yellow pages industry is in the business of indiscriminately sending unsolicited bulk messages. And in the case of yellow pages, but refers to both the volume of messages they send and their weight.

#2 is an interesting point. The general theory on why spam in its email form works is because it’s economically viable. A certain percentage of email users actually buy things from spam email messages they receive, so we all have to suffer through receiving these messages because of it. And sending one or one million emails costs approximately the same, so as long as someone buys, the numbers work.

But in the case of yellow pages, the cost of printing and delivery is much higher than for email. Sadly, the reason the numbers still work is because the yellow pages are not direction beneficiaries of the viability of the ads they print and ship. As long as businesses pay for the ads, the yellow pages companies win. And as long as the yellow pages companies can create the illusion that their product is used by every home in America, they’re can continue charging businesses based on that illusion.

It’s worth noting that not all yellow pages deliveries are spam. In fact, the majority is not. But every instance of sending a yellow pages book to someone who has opted out, an abandoned house, or someone who has no plans of using it certainly is.

According to the YP industry, 1 in 8 phone books are not used. Let’s run the numbers on that: There are at least 100,000,000 households in America, and it appears that the average household receives at least 2 yellow pages books each year. If 12.5% of those are not used, we’re talking about 25 million pieces of spam being generated a year.

And, as the industry is willing to admit, 80% of those books are not recycled but thrown in the trash, so we have 20 million UNUSED phone books per yer filling our landfills.

Perhaps Ken Clark is right about the use of the term “spam” to describe what yellow pages companies do to us. I don’t think it’s strong enough of a term.

If you get a chance, check out the awesome comments by Ken Clark over here. He starts by saying they don’t spam, then goes into the ways they’re talking the talk on how they plan to one day not spam people. Then he says to just deal with it. It’s a wonderfully twisted argument by someone who’s on the wrong side of history.

8 thoughts on “Does the Term “Spam” Apply to Print Yellow Pages’ Behavior?”

  1. Pingback: Sky Blue Waters » Blog Archive » The Phone Book Delivery Problem
  2. Ok, I’ll go back to calling it litter or junk mail.

    He also compares it to newspapers and wonders why you’re not upset about those paper costs. Well, Ken, since I don’t voluntarily subscribe to any newspapers, nobody’s dropping them on my front steps uninvited. Or rather, haphazardly tossing them at my steps so they fall onto the city sidewalk where they become litter. Imagine how happy everyone would be if you subscribed to the yellow pages instead of getting them whether you like it or not.

    Also, the “30 seconds” it takes to find a recycling bin is a.) a ridiculous JOKE of an estimation of my time because I have to get into my car and drive across town to find a bin and b.) absurd because its put ON ME to get rid of trash that I not only didn’t ask for but made steps towards avoiding.

    Not everyone wants these paper weights, Ken. YOU get over it.

  3. Ang’s comment about junk mail is the real starting point. Given Congress’s mandate to the USPS to give subsidized rates to junk mailers, it’s no wonder YP publishers think they’re the original Rockefeller handing out shiny new dimes.

  4. I think Ken is right though to avoid comparisons to spam, afterall no one wants spam on their doorstep. Except, if it was Spam, the craftily developed chemically infused parts-is-parts pork product…yes, between any of the YPs and a can of Spam…I have to admit, I’ll take the can of Spam.

    At least a can of Spam I could give to a food shelf.

    What good is a YP these days?

  5. Since I am an advocate of the advertisers of the world, I decided that I would do some calculations with all of these numbers that are getting thrown back and forth in all of this.

    In Ken’s post, he quoted: “According to research released a couple of months ago from Knowledge Networks, nearly half (48%) of consumers report print Yellow Pages as the resource they turn to most often for information on a business or service, and more than three-quarters (77%) use the print Yellow Pages overall.”

    So if 77% of the people use the print Yellow Pages overall, that means that on average 23% DO NOT.

    If you have an area where a publisher distributes over 1 million copies of their directory, like AT&T does with their Greater Los Angeles directory, with a distribution of roughly 1,230,000 copies, that would mean that there are almost 290,000 copies of their directory that are not wanted.

    Add into this mix the usage studies that show they have less than 40% of the market share, since Verizon, Yellow Book, and Valley Yellow Pages also deliver to the same area, then that would convert, out of the remaining directories for the people that actually use them, to almost another 570,000 directories that they deliver that go unused, based upon factoring in all of this wonderful research.

    Now it doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that if you add all of this together it means that only 370,000 people out of the 1,230,000 that are getting the directory are actually using it. That would mean that 860,000 of these directories go unused. Times that by 7 lbs each (these are giant books), and you get over 3,000 tons of wasted paper. If it costs the publisher $4 (average number) a book to print, then they have wasted almost 3.5 million dollars publishing these.

    What is wrong with having this publisher actually find out who uses and wants their directory? What is wrong with right off the bat not printing those 290,000 copies of the directory that are not wanted?

    If you take just the people that don’t use the Yellow Pages and not even look at the rest, that converts to almost $1.2 million dollars in printing costs and over 1,000 tons of paper.

    Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it be great if the publisher gave that $1.2 million back as a discount to the advertisers? Wouldn’t the advertiser now feel more secure about his investment too, knowing that the people getting the directory really want it, and are actually going to use it?

    Now if you ask me, that is a stimulus package that these small businesses could live with.

  6. I was at the local coffeehouse the other night and a guy walks past the counter carrying all 6 inches of the shop’s yellow and white pages, and I thought ‘poor bastard’ as he went by…until I saw him stack them on his table and reach into his bag for his laptop and open it up, carefully leaning the screen at the right angle against the books, and then it finally made some sense.

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