Local Guy Blogs About Phone Book Deliveries

A local young Republican lawyer, Matthew Z. Kirkpatrick, was making ends meet in May by delivering phone books, and blogging about it. He blogged about it for two days, but hasn’t blogged since, so it’ not clear how much manual labor he was able to handle. (He did tweet that he made it at least 7 days.)

I hope that Matthew received routes that included do-not-deliver notes, and training that made it clear that delivering to vacant properties was not helping anyone. In fact, being the conservative that Kirkpatrick claims to be, you’d think it would be in his own self-interest to avoid over-delivery of phone books in order to save taxpayer dollars that would be wasted cleaning up the books he delivered that would never be used. He does mention encountering a left-leaning Eagan resident who seems pretty well informed about phone book company externalities:

Phone Books are a hot button issue for some people.
One gentleman intrigued me by his understanding of all of the different phone books. However, what intrigued me most was the need to discuss with me for ten minutes why he said that he was sad that the phone book company was taking advantage of me. (I didn’t give him any back story, he was just making assumptions as to my need to deliver phone books. ) As I was walking away, I saw Obama and Franken stickers on his car. I made my own assumptions.

Kirkpatrick may be right that people aren’t exactly being taken advantage of when they’re using their own vehicles, gas, car insurance, health insurance, and wear & tear to deliver phone books on piecework rates that often come out to little more than minimum wage after expenses. The reality of the market these days is that jobs that require little training and expertise offer little pay.

This, to me, sounds like a situation where underemployment may actually be worse than unemployment. With unemployment, a person may have time to find a job that fits their skills. Underemployment may actually cut into job searching time. Although piecework does offer quite a bit of flexibility, so this situation may be better than some other underemployment situations.

Dex Phone Books Opt-Out Fail – Yet Another Year

Another year, another stack of print spam phone books in a plastic bag from Dex.

This year had a new wrinkle. Dex delivered three books that I requested not to receive AND a door hanging acknowledging that I did not want to receive the books.

Dex Phone Book Opt-Out Fail

Yes, that is correct. They delivered a door hanger telling me that I’ve opted out of phone books while delivering phone books that I’ve opted-out of receiving.

I also received a phone call from Dex calling to verify that I did NOT receive books from them, as I had requested. Sadly, I had to tell them that their delivery team failed in their effort to NOT deliver their print spam to my door. They did offer to come pick up the books that I previously told them I did not want.

So, by opting-out of Dex phone book deliveries, I ended up with even more waste on my doorstep than had I not opted-out. I get to deal with phone calls from them where I spend my time helping verify their incompetence. And additional fuel will be wasted retrieving the books they never should have delivered to me in the first place.

Is this a case of things having to get worse before they get better? While Dex clearly failed in this case, they do appear to be making an effort to create an opt-out system. Something that the Yellow Pages industry claims it already has in place, but, in practice, it’s disappointing.

Better luck next year, Dex.

California Yellow Pages Bill Freaks Out YP Industry

The Yellow Pages industry is freaking out because California is attempting to do something outrageous: Hold the yellow pages industry accountable for the talk they talk.

On Monday the 17th of May, the California Senate Appropriations Committee will give their take on SB 920. According to the head of the Yellow Pages Association, Neg Norton, this bill will hurt small businesses in California:

It’s clear that any effort to limit local businesses from reaching consumers not only hurts businesses, but negatively impacts the state economy. In times like these, we can’t afford to place an undue burden on local business owners trying to make ends meet.

That, of course, makes me wonder how this would hurt small businesses. Let’s take a look at the language of the bill:

This bill would require a telephone corporation or 3rd-party vendor, as defined, to allow any telephone service subscriber to opt out of receiving a telephone directory published by a telephone corporation or 3rd-party vendor. The bill would prohibit telephone corporations and 3rd-party vendors from delivering directories to subscribers who opt out of receiving a directory, require that a telephone corporation or 3rd party vendor to demonstrate compliance with a specified law relative to recycled-content newsprint, and require that a directory contain clear and conspicuous language regarding opting out of receiving future directories and recycling of the directory.

It sounds to me like that’s saying that people who don’t want printed phone directories will have the ability to opt-out of receiving them.

Correct me if I’m wrong in this assumption, but it doesn’t seem like the type of person who doesn’t want phone directories plans to use phone directories to look up local business information, so how, exactly, would this hurt small businesses in California?

Since the yellow pages industry has professed support for opt-out systems, legislation that holds the industry accountable for their own words seems pretty benign to me.

The Yellow Pages Hates Being Held Accountable for Its Talk

During a recent conversation with Ken Clark in the comments of one of this blogs, I mentioned that regulating the yellow pages industry, such as fining companies who delivery to households who’ve opted out of deliveries, should not be fought by the industry since it’s simply holding the industry accountable for the talk that they talk.

It’s the same as someone who drives at a reasonable speed complaining about speed limits. They’re not a burden if you’re compliant, which the yellow pages aggressively claims to be with opt-out systems.

This, of course, was too reasonable to Ken Clark’s taste, leading to the following response:

So you want the industry to stop fighting unnecessary attempts to regulate it?? What radical social group did you get your business training in?? Can you name one industry that doesn’t fight unneeded regulations??

Here’s my take on that:

Ken, I can see where, from your financial perspective, holding the YP industry accountable for its own talking points would be seem unnecessary. However, politicians generally don’t go out of their way to find stuff to regulate.

In this case, it appears that legislators around the country are hearing from constituents who are saying, “Could you do something about all of this yellow pages waste? I’ve called the companies to tell them to stop delivering their directories to me, but they don’t seem to be honoring those requests.”

The legislators then get in contact with the YP industry, who says they have systems in place for opt-out requests. The legislators then go back to their constituents, who point out that they have opted out yet continue to receive what they now consider to be litter that’s contributing to the city, country, or state’s waste burden.

The legislators then think to themselves, “This should be a fairly simple problem to solve. We’ll just write something up here that holds the yellow pages industry accountable for the talk that they talk regarding opt-out systems. They shouldn’t have a problem with that since it’s not exactly a burden to do what you say that you’re already doing.”

But then the yellow pages industry starts freaking out. “You mean you’re actually going to hold us accountable for the talk we talk? How dare you! That’s completely unnecessary!”

Is it?

Google out Yellow Paging the Yellow Pages

Here’s an example online yellow pages search for pizza in Fitzroy, Victoria, the city where the temporary pizza shop set up by an Australian YP company resided:

Screen shot 2010-05-03 at 9.43.55 PM

Notice that they returned 7 results.

Now, here is the same search on Google Maps Australia:

Screen shot 2010-05-03 at 9.44.13 PM

Google found 31 places.

Now, check out the line at the bottom of this image:

Screen shot 2010-05-03 at 9.49.18 PM

Yes, that’s correct. A good chunk of Google’s local results come from the yellow pages. This is why it’s still important for many local businesses to be listed in the Internet Yellow Pages.

But where will searchers actually find you? It seems more likely that they’ll use Google. Why? Because they are already using it for everything else, so they’re familiar with it. It’s right there in their browser, so they don’t have to make an extra click to a website before searching. But more importantly:

Google out yellow pages the yellow pages for local search. They make better use of the data than the yellow pages does, by providing more complete search results.

1. They show you more options around where you’re looking.

2. They include additional layers of information, such as ratings.

3. And reviews.

4. And photos.

5. And navigable StreetView imagery. (and satellite views, map views, hybrid views, terrain views, birds eye views, yadda yadda)

6. And cost ranges.

7. And links to menus.

8. And links to external sites for reviews.

9. And transit options.

10. And the ability to contribute information you know about venues.

Yes, indeed. Google is out Yellow Paging the Yellow Pages.

Ken Clark’s Sociopathic Yellow Pages Bias

Yellow Pages Kool-Aid drinker, Ken Clark, demonstrates (once again) that he is incapable of empathizing with people who have no interest in the spam his industry dumps on doorsteps:

I am still amazed that something as simple as a free phone book delivered once a year can get people so upset, when all it takes is 30 seconds to bend over and place it in a recycling bin if they indeed don’t want it.

Perhaps some other examples of free stuff that could be delivered to one’s door will help Ken understand how annoying it is to receive his industry’s print spam:

I am still amazed that something as simple as a big stack of blank pieces of paper delivered once a year can get people so upset . . .

I am still amazed that something as simple as a handful of empty beer bottles delivered once a year can get people so upset . . .

I am still amazed that something as simple as a steaming pile of dog crap delivered once a year can get people so upset . . .

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re pissing on Ken Clark’s leg and he freaks out, just tell him calm down, it will only be for 30 seconds, and only once a year (except in communities that piss on people’s legs 2-3 times per year).

More on the Free Pizza based Rigged Yellow Pages “Study”

Yesterday, I posted about how a yellow pages company in Australia boasted about how 70% of the patrons of a new pizza shop discovered the place through the yellow pages. Of course, that may have had something to do with the flyer distributions and Facebook promotions that told people that the only way they could get the free pizza is if they jumped through ridiculous hoops that no sane business person would ever put in front of customers: They had to go to the yellow pages to find the phone number and address.

Now, that’s pretty ridiculous. But I think this tops it.

Yellow Pages PR flak, Stephanie Hobbs, wrote a column for the popular – and usually credible – search engine marketing website, Search Engine Land, where she cited the Australian pizza giveaway games as if they were somehow a legitimate case study.

Sensis, an Australian Yellow Pages provider, opened a new pizza joint in Melbourne last month called the Hidden Pizza Restaurant. Located in the basement of a nondescript alleyway, the restaurant began handing out flyers in the local area, as well as posting messages on its website and Facebook page, offering a free pizza to anyone willing to “just look it up the way you would any other business.”

So what happened? Over a two week period, more than 8,000 consumers ended up searching and finding the restaurant to claim their free pizza.

And how did they search for it? According to Sensis, about 70% said they located the restaurant’s information by searching one of the company’s various Yellow Pages search offerings, including its print directory (which had just been distributed), its online directory, and search-engine ads placed by their marketing team.

Why did so many people say that they located the restaurant’s information by searching the yellow pages? Because that’s the only place where people could find the information. Notice that it’s not a measure of where they looked FIRST for the information. This is a measure of where they ended up finding the information.

For example, where do you think people who found out about the free pizza offer on Facebook first looked for information? Do you think they put down their laptops or smartphones so they could pick up a yellow pages? Or turn to an online YP site? Of course not. They would have typed in the name of the restaurant into the Google search box on their browsers, which would have brought them to this:

Hidden Pizza Restaurant on Google

And they would have clicked the top link, which would have taken them to the Hidden Pizza website:

Hidden Pizza Restaurant

This assumes that the business has done a horrible job submitting itself to Google Local, which appears to be the case. Had they done that, the phone number and address would likely have appeared in the search results.

Once at the website, assuming they were stupid enough to NOT put their contact information on every page of the site (a surprisingly common oversight on restaurant websites) one would click to the contact page like I did above. The copy on that page is pretty small, so here is what it says:

Finding the restaurant is easy, just look it up the way you would any other business from April 12 – April 25 and the pizzas are free. Make sure you phone ahead to order as no pizza orders are taken at the door.*

Hello!?!?!!??!

People who’ve arrived at that page JUST DID what you asked of them. They looked up business information the way they would any other business in 2010.

Google Trends’ data seems to support this. When I compare the search volume of “Hidden Pizza” vs “Pizza Restaurant” among Australian searchers, the search volume for Hidden Pizza went through the roof during this campaign, which seems to make the case that Google was a popular choice among searchers:

Hidden Pizza vs Pizza Restaurant

Foursquare appears to have also contributed to the skewed results, where a Foursquare user, Ritchie S., tipped off users on what number they need to call in order to pretend they found out about the restaurant through the Yellow Pages.

Foursquare Tips on Hidden Restaurant

That’s one of the challenges with call tracking these days. Numbers don’t always stay put.

Emily N. and Ritchie S. went on to explain in additional tips that the restaurant is essentially a big yellow pages ad inside, and that patrons will be used as props in exchange for free pizza:

Foursquare Tips on Hidden Restaurant

So, why do I care enough about this to write about it twice (so far)? Because I hate seeing local businesses mislead about what forms of advertising actually work in 2010. Running a business is difficult enough when you have good information. Advertising “case studies” like this muddy the water at a time when determining an appropriate marketing mix is already tough enough.

How to Open a Yellow Pages Dependent Restaurant

A yellow pages company in Australia ran a poorly rigged test to “prove” that yellow pages are still relevant:

Importantly for Yellow owner Sensis, a division of Telstra, an average of 70 per cent of those customers said they found their way to the unsignposted Hidden Restaurant via a paid Yellow online listing, search engine marketing services such as those Yellow provides its customers, or through the local Yellow Pages directory, which was delivered to homes shortly before the campaign began.

It turns out that if you open a pizza shop, then promote it only through print and web YP properties, that the majority of people visiting your restaurant will come from YP channels. Of course, if the only way people could find out that a new restaurant existed was through YP channels, it would take a considerable amount of time to build an audience. Clearly, many people looking for pizza in the yellow pages would choose a place they’re already familiar with unless they had a reason to go deeper.

So, to speed up the process of promoting the business, what did the yellow pages do? They turned to social media. Facebook, specifically:

Hidden Restaurant, which also represented Sensis’s first major foray into the world of social media, opened on April 12 following the distribution of flyers in the Fitzroy area and the launch of a Facebook page and website with the following prompt: Finding the restaurant is easy, just look it up the way you would any other business from April 12 to April 25 and the pizzas are free.

They put out a note on Facebook explaining to people that they could get free pizza if they could figure out the location of the pizza. Rather than just tell people on Facebook, the way a sane restaurant promoter would do, they forced people to turn to the yellow pages, which led to 70% of patient pizza fanatics calling in to book a reservation via the phone numbers listed in the YP ads (no walk-ins were accepted for tracking purposes).

Amazingly, this was an attempt by the yellow pages industry to prove that they’re still relevant.

Compare this to what we’ve seen in Minnesota. If Punch Pizza opened a new restaurant somewhere in the Twin Cities tomorrow, what are the chances that they could pack the place on the first night by offering free pizza? Would they wait until the next print yellow pages spam hit doorsteps, or would they send out a Tweet, mention something on Facebook, or drop a coupon on Flickr? Regardless, the cost would be nearly nothing, on their on time and terms, and not YP dependent. Put another way:

An analysis of the campaign on online magazine Anthill1. was dismissive.

“Why has this (Facebook) Fanpage disallowed comments and fan interaction? Because then fans would quickly reveal where the restaurant is hidden, what the phone number is and no one would head to the Yellow Pages listing,” it stated.

Running tests to prove that yellow pages are still relevant does make sense, but tests like the one Sensis ran are so laughable in their rigging that they can’t possibly convince anyone to consider legacy yellow pages advertising.

1. The Australian newspaper, not unlike American newspapers, did not link to the blog they cited. But I did because I think readers occasionally like to go learn more than fits into a post/story. When will newspapers figure this out?

Is Yellow Pages Spam a Symbol of Waste or Actual Waste?

A recent post by Charles Laughlin on the BIA/Kelsey Local Media Watch blog takes a look at legislation moving through the California State Senate that would put some teeth into print white pages opt-out systems. Basically, it holds directory publishers accountable if they don’t walk their own talk about having opt-out systems in place, which seems like a pretty low bar. But that hasn’t stopped the print directory industry from fighting it.

One quote that seems a little industry tainted to me is the use of the word “symbol” to describe the documentation of print yellow pages litter by irresponsible directory publishers incapable of honoring their own opt-out lists (or recognizing vacant homes for what they are):

State and local legislative bodies have targeted directory publishers because directories have become a visible symbol of waste to many, particularly in markets where there are multiple books distributed and in dense urban markets where stacks of phone books are often left uncollected in apartments foyers, photos of which have become the de facto symbols of the opt-out movement.

Here’s the deal: Print yellow pages litter isn’t a symbol of waste. It is waste. Litter. Trash. Unsolicited junk dumped at households and businesses.

A symbol would be something like a big yellow middle finger directed at people who have the gall to say that they’re not interested in using annual printed directories for local business information in 2010.

A symbol could also be a yellow circle with a cross through it over the term “Opt-In”.

Documented print yellow pages waste isn’t a symbol of waste. It’s documented waste.

Colorado Votes to Not Create an Opt-Out Phone Book System

Inside YP has an industry look at the recent attempt in Colorado to create an opt-out system for phone book deliveries. In the end, the attempt to create an opt-out system died in at 8-3 committee vote, so things did get very far.

The yellow pages industry seems to be having some success fighting legislation like this based on the fact that many YP companies do indeed have opt-out systems in place:

A key reason that the legislation was overturned in a bipartisan vote is that Yellow Pages companies – both collectively and individually – have already introduced consumer choice programs aimed at helping consumers manage their print deliveries.

As we told the Denver Post, our industry has no economic incentive to deliver a phone book to someone who doesn’t want one. That’s why we launched www.YellowPagesOptOut.com to make it easy for consumers to find information about stopping delivery of directories they don’t want.

Of course, as we know, there is a difference between maintaining an opt-out list and abiding by the list. Additionally, if lists are maintained by individual companies, consumers are forces to work through multiple phone trees in order to add themselves to the do not distribute list of each company.

Imagine if the do not call lists were maintained by individual companies rather than a universal list, so each time you received a call from a company you didn’t care to receive marketing or sales messages from you’d have to ask to be removed from that company’s list. That would clearly never end.

Perhaps legislators who haven’t looked closely at what YellowPagesOptOut.com believe is that it’s a source for a universal opt-out rather than just a list of companies you can contact, one at a time, to hopefully get yourself removed from this form of print spam?

While the yellow pages industry claims there is no economic incentive to deliver books to those who no longer want them, in practice, that’s exactly what they do when they ignore their own opt-out lists, deliver to vacant homes, and heavily over-deliver to office buildings and apartments.

If the yellow pages industry actually does walk the walk and not just talk the talk, they should have no problems with opt-out legislation. All they’d need to do is what they claim to be already doing to abide by the law. That shouldn’t be difficult at all if their word is actually good.

A quote from a Republican lawmaker in the Denver Post regarding this decision seemed particularly strange to me:

“I’m concerned about the jobs” that could be lost, said Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.

What jobs would be lost? Jobs delivering books to households that no longer use print directories? Are those good jobs? Wouldn’t the State of Colorado be better off is small businesses were paying for ads that are distributed only to those who find them valuable? Wouldn’t the State of Colorado save tax dollars if the state didn’t have to spend money recycling and filling landfills with unused yellow pages spam?

In related news, Scott Moore recently made a big delivery to YellowBook’s offices down in Mendota Heights:

Hundreds more never-used directories of yellow pages spam.