Yellow Pages: Will the Madness Ever Stop?

Special Delivery

This post gets easier to write every year.  As I’ve reported many times in the past, a truckload of yellow pages has been dropped off at my apartment building. This year, there seems to be a new technique – actually putting the individual bags at each apartment’s door instead of just dumping them in the foyer.   This likely increases uptake of the books since no one wants to be blamed for having debris in the hallway in front of their door.

Turns out the timing was quite good this year as I have a broken slat under my bed.  The phonebook fits nicely underneath it and gets rid of an annoying sag that I’d noticed last week.  This is probably the most well-used phonebook in the building.

On a more serious note, let’s think about what all these phonebooks amount to.  Millions upon millions are printed every year for an ever decreasing number of users.   The best statistics I can find suggest that a little less than 50% of Americans used the print yellow pages in the last month.  That’s actually a lot higher than I would have thought, but considering the source of that data is the Yellow Pages trade association, it might be a wee bit optimistic.  Needless to say, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that printed directories are quickly going downhill.  Furthermore, judging by the number of phone books that never left my foyer last year, and the scorn with which my neighbors discussed them, it’s obvious that an increasing number of people view the books as little more than a public nuisance.   I also argue they are a scam on advertisers who think they are reaching far more people than they actually do.

But I have an idea…

Since opt out programs clearly don’t work (I dutifully tried this last year), yellow pages should be required to stop all deliveries.  In return, a nice card should be mailed to everyone in a given area explaining that tomes of paper would not be sent any more, but that the website, YellowPages.com, would be available for most any need.   In fact, YellowPages.com is actually pretty useful – if they could just figure out how to grow their audience (I hear Yelp.com is available for cheap).

Consumers who still wanted a directory would simply return a postage-paid card to voluntarily opt in for future deliveries.   They could even increase conversions by offering a free local coupon book or something like that.  They could even ask basic demographic questions to know their audience much better than ever before!

And the real winning element to my idea?  Yellow pages would need to print far fewer directories for much lower cost.  Not only that but they could radically increase the rates they charge advertisers knowing that they’re now going to happy and willing customers whose demographics are better understood.

Trees saved, nerves saved, costs saved, labor saved, more money for everyone… what’s the problem?

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.