Yellow Pages Discussing the “Opt-Out Movement”

Can the Yellow Pages successfully move away from print?

If so, one of the things they’ll have to get used to is what they, internally, refer to as the “Opt-Out Movement” – people who no longer with to receive phone books for a variety of reasons.

So, you think they’d put together a progressive team to work on the issue. Here are the leaders from their most recent industry conference, Directional Media Strategies ’08.

Session B: Dealing With the Opt-Out Movement
Publishers are beginning to proactively offer opt-out as an option for consumers who don’t want to receive a print directory in order to stave off more draconian restrictions. In Norway and the United Kingdom, opt-out has been actively promoted, yet only about 5 percent of the population has actually opted out of home delivery.
Bottom-Line Questions: What is Yellow Pages’ real impact on the environment? How should publishers respond to this movement? What are the prospects for mandated opt-out or opt-in programs around the world?
Ken Clark, Publisher, YP Talk
Amy Healy, Director, Public Policy, Yellow Pages Association
Peter Rand, Operations Director, Link Direct
John Rafferty, COO, Canpages
Moderator: Bobbi Loy-Luster, VP and Senior Analyst, The Kelsey Group

Who are these people?

Ken Clark: a guy who think Gen X & Y people don’t get it because the don’t look up information in books. He believes everyone should get carpet bombed with phone books because you never know when you’re going to want to use one.

Amy Healy: She’s the one who puts fire icons on top of states who dare attempt to legislate opt-out policies for phone book delivery.

Peter Rand: Founded a company in the UK that specializes in “Door Drop Marketing” and brags about “door dropping” 8 billion print pieces a year including heavy pieces like BT’s phone books.

John Rafferty: Canpages is owned by a Dallas, TX based private equity firm that also owns oil and gas exploration companies. I’m not sure how much Texas environmentalism that trickles down into Canpages culture, but I see no opt-out forms on their site or any blog posts discussing opt-out or Canpages’s impact on the environment on their year-old blog. But they do boast about delivering 7.2 million directories per year.

The only person I’ve been able to find who’s making any sense in this industry is a woman in Norway, Wenche Holen, who made this statement last year:

“It is not good to force people to take directories they don’t want,” Holen said.

What a radical concept.

Of course, since she works for a YP company, Holen still has her faults. She may think it’s wrong to force people to receive directories they don’t want, but she still thinks it’s okay to force people to opt-out of directories rather than having an opt-in system where people simply request them if they actually want them.

Idearc Media Hurts Minneapolis Neighborhoods

A month ago – Labor Day to be specific – I snapped this photo of a rotting phone book from YellowBook on the front steps of this home on 6th St in the Hawthorne Neighborhood.

Old Phone Books

I then blogged about it under the title, Phone Books Destroy Neighborhoods.

So imagine how disappointed I was when I saw that same phone book sitting in front of that same house a month later.

Now, take that disappointment and double it, thanks to Idearc Media.

Why?

Because they dropped yet another phone book in front of this property. They left a Verizon Yellow Pages to rot right next to the rotting YellowBook.

Hawthorne Neighborhood Yellow Pages

Was it not clear to Idearc Media’s delivery person that they already had a phone book. Here’s a closer shot:

Hawthorne Neighborhood Yellow Pages

Take a peak inside:

Hawthorne Neighborhood Yellow Pages

Yes, that’s the same Verizon Yellow Pages spam from Idearc Media that I threw at their offices in Eagan.

What should be done about this?

Distributing marketing materials to clearly abandoned properties should be considered littering. We should start enforcing this by fining phone book distributors for each offense.

Phone book companies would prefer opt-out systems over opt-in. However, an opt-out system simply will not work to prevent distribution to abandoned properties since no one lives there to opt-out. Additionally, there is the ongoing problem caused by splintering phone book distribution, creating an ever-increasing burden on households who have to unsubscribe with each and every phone book distributor. Because of this, an opt-in policy where households must specifically request phone books will do much more good than an opt-out system.

In the mean time, I strongly encourage Idearc Media to send a representative to the next Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Committee meeting to formally apologize for littering abandoned properties in their neighborhood.

Yellow Pages is Paying Bloggers to Say Nice Things About Them

You cant make this stuff up.

Yellow Pages company, DexKnows.com, is paying people to write nice things about them on blogs.

Oh, and it gets better. YP industry consultant, Ken Clark then takes the payola and blogs about it on one of his industry blogs, where he claims the paid posts are “actual experiences.”

I think this will be my only yellow pages related post on The Deets today. 🙂

DexKnows.com, Minneapolis Pizza, & Blog Payola

I was recently perusing a blog called “THE Facts on Print Yellow Pages” when I stumbled across a post about Minneapolis pizza.

Being a Minneapolis blog writer, resident, and a big fan of Pizza, I checked out what this site had to say about this very important topic (to me, at least):

Pay Per Post and DexKnows.coom

I clicked through to the post referenced on the above site to find this blog post:

Pay Per Post and DexKnows.coom

That looked strange to me. Notice how the two outgoing links are both tied to specific keywords? And why is someone so excited about the Minneapolis phone book that they’re actually blogging about it? This smelled like rotten fish rather than freshly cooked pizza to me.

It turns out that the person blogging about the Minneapolis phone book actually lives in Arkansas. Strange, eh?

The blogger who wrote the post has a link to PayPerPost on their site. Ah, I wonder is this happened to be a paid post? Of course it is.

And when there is one paid post there are usually more. Why would DexKnows.com only buy a paid post about Minneapolis pizza?

Sure enough, a little playing around with queries on Google found a common pattern among blog posts, revealing that DexKnows.com has, indeed, purchased blog posts from quite a few bloggers.

Pay Per Post and DexKnows.coom

Why would DexKnows.com pay bloggers to write posts that include links to DexKnows.com from specific keywords within the posts? Are they doing it to gain traffic from the bloggers? Not directly. They’re doing it to game Google. Increasing the number of links to your site increases your site’s authority in Google’s eyes. And pages that are linked to with keyword-rich link text (anchor text) tend to rank a bit higher for the terms used in the link.

This tactic of link buying is frowned upon by Google, who has gone as far as wiping out the authority of bloggers participating in this scheme. The message is clear: Don’t accept payola.

This got a lot of buzz in November of 2007, but still continues to this day. For example, the DexKnows.com payola shown above is from August 2008.

Insidiousness

Here’s how this appears to have gone down.

1. DexKnows.com offers bloggers money in exchange for writing about topics covered in the DexKnows.com directory.

2. Bloggers take the offer and write the posts. Get paid.

3. Yellow Pages industry consultant, Ken Clark, writes about one of the payola posts on his blog called, “THE Facts on Print Yellow Pages”

4. He tags the blog post (you can’t make this stuff up): “Actual Experiences”

Pay Per Post and DexKnows.coom

They’re actually making up “actual experiences” about their industry.

I guess we shouldn’t expect better from an industry that litters neighborhoods with phone books that many consumers no longer want. In fact, they try to prevent states from implementing opt-out legistlation.

If a Yellow Pages company is spending money to game Google, what does that say about the state of Yellow Pages vs Google as sources of information?

By the way, DexKnows.com does know how to buy ads on blogs without payola. My friend Aaron Landry is an authority on the Minneapolis pizza scene, and look who’s advertising on his blog:

DexKnows.com ad on S4xton.com

Yellow Pages Delivery Spam Discussed on Flak Radio

Jim Norton and Taylor Carik were kind enough to invite me onto their radio show to discuss the Yellow Pages Industry’s phone book spam policy that led to my trip to Idearc’s Eagan Campus to return an unsolicited phone book to their plastic putting green.

Click on the link above for a variety of listening options, or click here to jump directly to the segment featuring yours truly.

Halving the phone book.
Photo by SHERWIN!!!

One point of clarification: At one point, I state, “I’m sure they’re [the yellow pages industry] using some sort of environmentally friendly paper – as friendly as it can be – still, to create something that people don’t want . . . ”

To which Jim Norton responded, “That’s very charitable on your part to assume that. Because, based on the fact that they’re whole strategy is to litter tens of thousands of unneeded phone books everywhere, I don’t know that you want to propose anything . . .”

To which I responded:

“Well, it’s a relative green thing, kind of like Clean Coal.”

I’d just like to point out that Jim was right. According to the Yellow Pages Association’s own figures, the majority of the material that goes into creating Yellow Pages is NOT, I repeat NOT, recycled material. Only 40% of a phone book comes from recycled materials. The Yellow Pages Association calls this a high figure. I call it a failing grade.

To illustrate the point, dust off a copy of the yellow pages in your basement and tear it in half. The large of the two halves represents what came from non-recycled sources.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Of course, they’re still producing phone books for people who don’t want them at all, so they’re completely FAILING at REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE since they refuse to reduce and actually fight efforts by states to implement reduce legislation. Reuse is an interesting option, since consumer can certainly use phone books are boosters for kids, although yellow pages advertisers are probably not interested in spending money on ads so children can step on them.

Yellow Pages Win While Minnesota Loses

Here’s a slide from a Yellow Pages industry presentation called “Dealing with the Opt-Out Movement(pdf).” Apparently, it’s a scary thing for the Yellow Pages Association that people are starting to wake up and say, “I want to stop delivery of phone books to my home.”

The presentation includes a breakdown of recent state efforts to create opt-out (or, preferably, opt-in) policies.

As we see below, they boast proudly of their success with blocking people from having the right to say “NO” to phone books here in Minnesota:

Yellow Pages Hate Minnesota

Legislation in Washington attempted to make it mandatory for phone book companies to print opt-out instructions on the cover:

Blocking Opt-Out Legislation in Washington State

To me, that sounds like pro-consumer AND pro-business legislation since it would distill phone book delivery down to only those who actually want them. The exact people phone book advertisers (local businesses) are trying to reach.

Hawaii tried to take the approach I’ve been evangelizing: Make phone books opt-in so people have to request to receive them. This would much more efficiently distill delivery down to those who want the directories.

Hawaii Phone Book Legislation

Unfortunately, proud lobbying efforts by the Yellow Pages industry against the interests of local consumers and local business owners managed to kill these bills mentioned above.

Idearc Media: Yellowpages Unsubscribe FAIL

Idearc LogoLast Sunday, before returning an unsolicited Verizon phone book to Idearc Media in Eagan, I hopped online to unsubscribe. It took some digging, but I eventually found a contact email that seemed appropriate at Idearc. I sent them this email:

My Email to Idearc

Unfortunately, I received an email back from Idearc six days later where Amber decided to pass the buck on helping me get off their distribution list.

Idearc Rejection Email

Notice that Amber is emailing me from an Idearc.com email address, so it would have been nice if she could have forwarded my email to an appropriate department. That didn’t happen.

So I called the number she suggested. No answer and no option for leaving a message.

Then I tried the link she suggested. The form I ended up at has many options. One is for compliments, but that didn’t seem appropriate. Another was for Yellow – White Pages concerns and complaints. That sounds right:

Idearc Contact form: Not for Consumers

But it turns out that the form is designed for advertisers rather than real people and requires business contact information to fill out.

Out of curiosity, I looked up how their stock (IAR) is doing:

Idearc Stock Quote

I don’t know if this is a rule, but generally companies who give higher priority to Investors than Customers on their websites are going to have customer service issues. Funny how that may translate into problems for investors, eh?

Unsubscribing from phone books it proving to be a much more difficult project than I thought. They really want to do everything they can to make you accept their litter.

This post is also available in video form here:

While on the subject of Yellow Pages, I decided to check in with the industry’s crotchetiest lobbyist, Ken Clark, who on a blog called Yellow Pages Environmental Forum (seriously, that’s what he calls it) he explains how kids these days are missing out on valuable advertising by rejecting the use of printed business directories in favor the web:

New Generation Doesn’t Get It

I have long argued that it is far quicker to grab a print Yellow Pages to find what you are looking for than to be clicking and surfing away thru myriads of websites. When you use a book you also get a quick visual indication (subjective as it is) about the viability of the business you are looking at – those print ads aren’t free and if that company has bought a half page ad this is probably not some fly-by-night, Johnny come lately company.

Good luck with that argument, Mr. Clark. I’m sure Gen-Y types will respond positively to a “you don’t get it” argument and wake up to the value of heavy printed directories.

As long as you’re here, Ken, I have three quick questions for you:

1. How can people who don’t want phone books get off phone book distribution lists?

2. Wouldn’t it be better for advertisers to send phone books to only people who want them? It seems like that would substantially decrease the printing and distribution costs advertisers supplement with their ad spends. Correct?

3. Why does someone who’s such a big advocate for Yellow Pages need at least 5 websites?

The Yellow Pages ARE Valuable

Deets reader, Jeremy, sent along with cute use of Yellow Pages in his house. Turns out that they’re perfect for providing a needed boost to the sink:

Cute Use of Phonebook

They’ve never been cracked. They are, however, thick enough to boost a step stool to hand washing height.

Thank you, local Yellow Pages advertisers, for supplementing the costs of Jeremy’s child’s sink booster books.