AT&T Phone Book Dump 2010: Here We Go Again


This post series is starting to sound like a broken record. As it did about this time in 2007 and 2008, AT&T has once again dumped a huge pile of useless paper and plastic bags in my foyer. If the pattern I observed the last two years continues, two or three of them will be taken upstairs by some of the more elderly residents of my building and the rest will sit there for weeks until someone has the gumption to toss them. Or perhaps, as Lloyd Alter suggested last year, someone takes them out back and builds a shed out of them.

It doesn’t look like anything has changed since last year, when commenters pointed out that the telephone book business remains a hugely profitable and (believe it or not) growing business. Exactly why this is true continues to baffle me… I can’t seem to find any stats about how many people actually use the phone books they’re given, though my unscientific surveys in my peer group show it’s a small enough number that at the very least there should be a more targeted way to distribute them.

Although it may be profitable for AT&T and other phone book distributors to keep selling ads in these tomes, wouldn’t it be far more profitable for AT&T to figure out who actually uses them, sell the ads for a much higher price, and only print them for the people who want them? How hard could that be? As a shareholder in the company (full disclosure, fyi) I’d certainly vote to explore the option.

Given the quality of AT&T’s network, it’s obvious it’s got problems, but staggering along in the dark ages handing out giant books is certainly not a positive sign of much deep thought.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has 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 worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been 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.

28 responses

  1. The problem with a demand-driven phone book is that it's difficult to get them to deliver it to you just at the moment when you decide you need it.

    Here's my zero-billion dollar idea, free for you: Create, where people can go, enter their name and address, and a FREE PHONE BOOK will be delivered to them within 24 hours. THINK of the advertising revenue!

  2. People who are interested in stopping directory delivery can check out to find information on how to do that. To your points about usage, we’re seeing big upticks in use of our mobile apps and Internet Yellow Pages sites (which saw double digit growth last year) for local search. But print Yellow Pages are still popular. Here are some interesting stats: print Yellow Pages were referenced 12.3 billion times last year, 85 percent of U.S. adults used a print Yellow Pages in 2008, and about half of consumers asked in the first nine months of 2009 say print Yellow Pages is still the source they turn to first, the one they trust most, and the source that’s most accurate.

    Stephanie Hobbs
    Yellow Pages Association

  3. You are all “missing” a very large audience. Those folks who are older that do not have computers. My in-laws are in their 80's. They have the money do buy a computer but choose not to do so. They have macular degeneration and experience enough challenges with reading a book let alone operating a computer. Please remember, that there are still folks out there who require phone books. Someday that my change, but not for a few years yet. Not providing them with a phone book just reduces more of their independence which they are already frustrated abou.t

  4. Yellow Pages phone book dumping is now ridiculous. Yes, people without computers might have a hard time. So does that mean everybody needs a half dozen or more phone books thrown on our front doorsteps throughout the year? No. Phonebooks should be like newspapers… by subscription or by request. Unfortunately, phone book publishers don't accept 3rd party opt-outs, so you have to contact them directly. I've created a site that makes light of the old days when phone books were advertised as well as our reaction to them today as tools for elaborate video pranks. Plus at you can find out how to really Opt-Out and Petition Congress to make Yellow Pages an opt-in by request service.

    1. Congress make Yellow Pages an opt-in service??? The gov't has no place in this. This isn't some soviet country. There's free enterprise and phone books are put out by private companies, if you don't want a phone book just opt out or just get rid of your home phone and get a cell, if you don't have a home phone they usually won't deliver a phone book.

      1. Last week, I received 10 phone books… 7 by mail box and 3 at my office. I don't own a phone line.. I do everything through cell phones. Today, those phones books are still sitting where they were THROWN… not stacked.. thrown. Oh and by the way, the Yellow Pages publishing companies are no longer tied to phone lines, this isn't the 1980's. It doesn't matter if I opt out or not.. they didn't deliver phone books to me personally, in their opinion, they delivered them to the buildings and offices of where I happen to live and work. And.. while I agree most of the time that the government should stay out of our business, this is a case where publishers are taking advantage of businesses, making them believe that they're getting X number of readers like a magazine, when in fact, most phone books are simply tossed away unused and unwanted. So… this publisher, one of 5 in the area, just dumped their phone books last week, and they're still there. Do they get fined for littering? No. Do they have these things just thrown off a truck instead of addressed and delivered to the door of someone requesting it? Yes. In a few more weeks, another publisher will do the same.. and in a few more weeks after that it repeats again. When is it enough? Over 580 million phone books were printed last year. How many do I need? Especially considering the fact that I have an iphone and broadband internet as most buyers do.

        1. complete lie. i deliver all over abd it takes two seconds to opt out. and how dare someone underestimate american businessmen countrywide who pay good advertising money and see the results and continue to advertise in the phone book because of it.

        2. Calm down Ben. The fact is, opting out often does not work. I have opted out many times and continue to get phone books.

          Only an idiot would advertise in the phone book these days.

  5. who gets a dozen phonebooks, unless you own an entire apartment building? haha

    I get one phonebook, once a year, and I use it at least a few times a week. I can't stand having to boot up my computer, going on google and searching for a local business only to come up with a ton of random listings from across the country. I also like the coupons! And I'm only 27.

  6. who gets a dozen phonebooks, unless you own an entire apartment building? haha

    I get one phonebook, once a year, and I use it at least a few times a week. I can't stand having to boot up my computer, going on google and searching for a local business only to come up with a ton of random listings from across the country. I also like the coupons! And I'm only 27.

  7. Another reason they are so profitable is the 'slave labor' used to deliver. My 19 year old signed up for the job because he is unemployed. He went to 1 orientation and then drove over on Saturday and waited 4 hours to get his route and books. No one gave him the orange bags so he couldn't start delivering until Monday. I looked at his route, which includes residential and commercial, and I was shocked. He would have had to work about a week at 8hrs a day in 100 degree weather on foot with hiscar over heating to get this done. They want a route done in 3 days and pay around $134, $38 gas and $35 audit bonus if done properly, which would come out to about $5 hr or less! SCAM on the poor and unemployed people.

    1. this is true.I took a route this week. I delivered 670 phone books.In 2 days, took 21 hrs. starting the 1st day 7am-5pm , 2nd day 7am-6pm. 218 miles. You have to hang on the front door knob. which many new homes have handles instead of knobs. took $35 in gas. My route had long driveways since im in a rural area. I even had to go in the next county. all for $80. I took it cause i didnt think it would be that bad. Untill I done started. I didnt relize I had to go into the next county untill after i got home. the roads in the other county wasnt highlighted. I have friends in corporate at&t. Im reporting this delivery company. my advice… Dont take this job. You would be better delivering pizza’s!

    2. It is not a scam when you inform the worker of the pay and work. If you don’t think it is worth it, then do not deliver phone books. Many people don’t have any other work and some pay is better than no pay. I would shovel crap for $5 or less if I had no other work.

  8. Just came across several dozen new Yellow Pages, in 3 locations, just dumped in the road. That is the final straw for me. I have spent thousands over the years, advertising in Yellow Pages. What a prat! Paying for adverts in directories which are never delivered. No wonder Yellow Pages are in trouble. I am sure I can find a more coat effective way of advertising next year!

  9. We still do get phone calls from people who found us through the Yellow Pages. It would be nice if there was a opt in so us advertisers could get an actual count of people using the book over how many were distributed.

  10. Yes, but I can not afford the high prices of the internet ads. Believe or not people still use the phone book.
    Thank goodness there are still advertisement options that a very small business can afford.

  11. Here’s yet another problem. Representatives trespassed into our gated community to dump their garbage on private property. There are many snowbirds who will not know that would- be criminals can see books not taken off the property and surmise that the home is unoccupied.

    Why do I have to “opt- out” from something that I didn’t “opt- in”?

    Don’t they kill trees to make the paper that ends up in landfill?

    Doesn’t the ink filter down into the rivers and streams polluting the water systems?

    Our community rips the books apart then directs the telephone people to come and pick up their garbage.
    By the way, is it possible for you writers not to use “actually” in every conversation? It hardly ever changes the meaning of the sentence.

  12. So myself along with two other Mom’s that are off for the Summer…went to the Mall and saw the opportunity for some extra cash to contribute to the kid vacation to Disney…we honestly thought, “How hard can it be?” we are boy scouts Mom’s that have survived many adventures despite the circumstances. I have to say we picked what we considered the cream of the crop route…and by day one, mid day, in 97′ weather we were ready to take our books back and hand them off to the next suckers that came along…and tell that man that refered to this job as “easy”, to take it and shove it. After finishing the route, two days later, because quitting would be a bad example for our growing young boys, I don’t ever care to pertake in this type situation again. I think that after spending gas money, getting water, and the 16 miles that I walked in three days I may have cleared 80.00 to the good. Go flip some burgers at the local fast food chain or in my case I will just pick up a couple of extra shifts at the hospital. If you ever question if you need to find a real job or return to college…do so it is much easier than delivering phone books

  13. i’ve been delivering for years. millions still use the phone book. if you don’t want them delivered there is a number to call listed right on the cover of the book. i’m amazed at how people get so enraged by getting a free phonebook.

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