Seattle’s Yellow Pages Opt-Out System is Working Well

Seattle is kicking Minneapolis’ butt when it comes to eliminating phone book spam with a side effect of saving a ton of money:

Since the program began last May, more than 75,000 Seattle residents and businesses stopped their yellow-pages deliveries, removing 375 tons — more than 419,000 books — from the waste and recycle streams, according to city officials.

Yellow pages companies each maintain their own opt-out lists, so you can call up Dex, Yellowbook, or SuperPages to ask them to remove you from their distribution lists. As I’ve found out over time, there is little incentive for YP companies to actually honor those lists, so don’t be surprised if you still receive print spam on your doorstep after choosing to opt-out.

Seattle decided to bring some accountability to the opt-out system. First, they created a universal opt-out form (like a do-not-call list) where residents can fill out one form to get all all lists. That alone is a huge time saver for city residents. Then, they added a fine for YP companies that don’t honor the opt-out list. A fine that’s easily avoidable since all you have to do is do what has been asked of you. The city allows for a small margin of error, so the system isn’t overly punitive.

Is there money to be saved by preventing the over-delivery of yellow pages directories? Yep:

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) calculated that the city had spent as much as $300,000 a year to recycle phone books.

But, as we have seen, Yellow Pages companies in the United States aren’t the most progressive companies in the world. They’ve sued Seattle over this program. You’d think that a program that distills YP deliveries down to only those who find the directories valuable would be of value to the YP industry as well. Don’t they save money by not having to print 419,000 books per year that people didn’t plan to use?

Amy Healy, vice president for public policy and sustainability for the Local Search Association, a yellow-pages trade organization, said that while the group does not support Seattle’s ordinance, it does support consumers’ right to refuse directory delivery and provides its own opt-out service.

This is true. The YP industry does provide its own opt-out service, but has no accountability. I believe that system was in place before Seattle decided to protect residents from yellow pages print spam (while saving taxpayers money).

Put another way, it was the Yellow Pages industry’s failure to regulate itself that led to Seattle regulating it.

2 thoughts on “Seattle’s Yellow Pages Opt-Out System is Working Well”

  1. Nice read, Ed. Your last sentence alone is a great conclusion of your post. It sounds like Seattle taxpayers could pay less for recycling if Yellow Pages companies honored their own opt-out policies?

    Side note: Congrats to your new addition of Sasha.

  2. I’ve noticed greater calls for eliminating personal and corporate income taxes for funding government services, and the revenue lost is supposed to be replaced by so-called ‘sin’ taxes on businesses than harm society–smokers, drinkers, polluters, et al–and it appears time for YP providers to be added to this list of ‘sin’ taxes.

    I’m 100% for taxing this anti-societal, non-caring industry for their bogus customer service for a horse-n-buggy business model. If they can’t keep their horse crap product off my front steps, then let’s recover 150% of the government expenses incurred until they do.

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