Tax for the Cost of Yellow Pages Disposal

During a little back and forth in the comments over on yellow pages industry cheerleader, Ken Clark’s blog, I tossed out the idea of taxing yellow pages companies a fee equivalent to what it costs municipalities to deal with the directories in the solid waste stream:

Ken, the yellow pages industry dumps a tax burden on local communities today. Perhaps the YP industry should offer to cover the cost of disposal of their books? Maybe that would accelerate the move to distribute the books to only those who still use them on a regular enough basis to warrant printing and distributing them?

As you can probably imagine, the idea of taxing the yellow pages industry in a way that covers the full cost of their litter was not met with open arms.

Great idea Ed. Let’s add another tax on to businesses that employs some 50,000+ people now and generates a $1 trillion in economic impact. It’s exactly that kind of thinking that has so many of us worried about the legislation that Congress is screwing around with on health care and cap-and-tax (trade).

What Ken seems to miss is that I’m not interested in taxing the industry. I’m interested in taxing the industry’s waste. The yellow pages industry currently sucks off the government’s teat in the form of subsidized waste disposal. It’s time for Ken and his yellow pages buddies to man up by covering the full cost of the waste they generate.

A tax that covers the cost of cleaning up the mess the yellow pages industry creates aligns the interests of communities with the industry. It says, “It’s okay if you dump your books here as long as you’ll pay to clean them up.” Cleaning up the mess a business creates seems like a pretty reasonable request.

In practice, what could this look like? Looking at the City of Minneapolis’ 2009 budget, it looks like $32.5 million was spent on solid waste (page 4 of this PDF). The YP industry has stated many times that the directories account for a measly 0.3% of the solid waste stream. If that’s the case, they would be taxed a measly $97,500 to cover the cost of cleaning up their mess. That’s actually quite reasonable, and goes to show how efficient our solid waste system is.

By reducing their directory deliveries by honoring opt-out lists, not spamming foreclosed homes, and cutting back on the bulk dumps on apartment buildings, the industry could surely reduce their self-created tax burden. They’d also save the money spent on printing and distributing the books in the first place.

Ken, I hope you can understand the difference between taxing a business and taxing a problem.

Rather than getting the government involved in solving such a common sense problem, perhaps the industry could proactively contribute to the solid waste departments of the communities it serves? A private solution to a public problem would be cheaper for everyone involved.

8 thoughts on “Tax for the Cost of Yellow Pages Disposal”

  1. Ed, I gotta admit, I’m on Ken’s side here. At the point that a book ends up on someone’s doorstep, the phone company has no control over how or whether individuals choose to dispose of the books. The real problem is that they shouldn’t be distributed to people who don’t want them in the first place. Regulating distribution is a much more logical and equitable approach, IMO.

  2. Great discussion Ed.

    I posted a link to this discussion on my blog. Of course it is well known that the YP industry hires lobbyists to influence regulation on the industry.

    I have a strong feeling that by 2012 the industry will have greater pressures from consumers and communities not wanting the product. Mobile search will have a huge impact on the perception of the industry.

    Yet I also believe that the product is viable and has value in the marketplace. If you have ever attempted to “sell” a website to someone outside of the ‘burbs… let me tell ya- IT IS A CHALLENGE. In most rural areas the phone book is the dominant local search medium.


    (P.S. Personally, I think the companies should be help accountable and responsible for the waste it creates… why should the local government subsidize the industry??)

  3. @Reuben, I’m not sure I follow your logic. Saying that the YP industry has no control over what happens to their books once distributed is like saying that a power plant isn’t responsible for what comes out of its smoke stacks. The books are either recycled or thrown in the trash which, combined, make up .3% of the municipal waste stream.

    Regulating distribution deals with a tactic, while taxing the waste deals with the community’s environmental and labor burden created by the unsolicited books. Taxing the cost leaves the industry the ability to come up with creative ways to deal with it, so opt-out, opt-in, improved delivery accountability, etc, could be used to better align distribution with the true user base.

  4. People always find ways to avoid tax (think tax shelters or bribes). My preference would be to require YP companies to pay me for each book delivered to my home. I’ll worry about the cost of disposing them. I will accept no less than $25 per book. Perhaps I’ll accept less when purchase a new sofa and need a door stop.

    My suggestion to anyone working in the YP business would be to find a new job before your business goes the way of eight track tapes.

  5. If the YP industry is taxed, then the YP execs won’t be able to afford those luxury suites in the new Vikings stadium.

    Think of the children.

  6. Those luxury suites come from the price tag of copying others. SuperGuarantee and ServiceGuarantee…… copying….. following in the steps of AT&T….. but also for entering the direct mail business by offering credit terms nobody in the industry is dumb enough to compete with (makes for a nice earnings call a year later when you tell em what you sold was never paid for). Got to love 12 month billing on a postcard that only comes out 1 time. But they need that kind of credit to lie to investors about earnings to get those luxurious suites! lol

    Can’t wait for earnings reports and folks to hear about how bad Idearc has been doing since the “quiet period”


  7. The profits earned and the employees who depend on an industry argument doesn’t do anything for me. I’m certain that the traffic of illegal drugs generates significant revenue and employs thousands of people.

    There are people who care about the waste of paper. There are also people who doubt the value of the advertising in the yellow pages.

    If the recipents of Yellow Pages were paying for them you could use economic arguments to make the case that there is a demand for your product. If you actually allowed people who don’t want to receive your products to opt out, you could point to the small lists of “opt-outers”.
    Since neither is the case, all you have is an opinion biased by the dollars of revenue you earn by selling your wears.

    I’m sure that the snake-oil salesman would tell me his cure-all would heal any illness i had as well….

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