Just found this article from Slate about the history of phone books, how they create so much waste and the opt-out movement that’s floating around several states. The quote that caught my attention is something we may have all heard before but put in a way that is pretty stark:

“Ask anyone under 30 about phone books, though, and you might as well inquire about Victrola needles. The Yellow Pages Association claims that even young households use them when the occasion—a wedding, for instance—demands reliable listings. But printed phone books are a maturing industry, with only about six in 10 businesses and individuals still regularly relying on them. Yet even as directories hemorrhage content to the Web and to unlisted cell numbers, enough oldsters—those, say, who still recall physically dialing numbers in a rotary motion—continue using them enough to keep profits rolling in. In other words, you remaining four in 10 recipients can expect a lot more doorstops and spider-smashers in your future.”

A bit dire in tone perhaps but seems plausible.

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12 Response Comments

  • Terry Reeves - Memphis Seo  March 27, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    And it seems like there are about a dozen different “phone book” publishers locally who leave these books on my door step several times a year.

    I don’t use them because I have yet to not be able to find a business number by doing a search using my city name and what I seek.

    Considering we just throw these things away once the new ones arrive, it sure seems like a tremendous waste of resources to continue producing them.

  • Local Hound  March 27, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    As much as I love local search… I can’t resist a good yp debate.

    In response to ask anyone under 30… x generation has the lowest usage, but those who are younger, the echo boomers, are using it. These are the people who grew up with the internet. They really know how it works and they are comfortable with it. They know how much faster of a medium the yp is and usage is pretty high among that group. So, you may be stuck with it for awhile.

    In response to 6 out of 10… the last study I saw (Oct 2006), showed only 30% of local searches were done on Google. So, think about your tracking and how many look-ups there are on google and then you imagine the power of the yp.

    And ultimately conversion in yp are the real story. Ask yourself how many times you used google this week, and how many businesses you called from those look-ups. And now think about the last time you used yp, I bet you made a call. Big difference in conversion rate, eh?

    Most small businesses can benefit from both.

    I’ll stop now. 🙂

  • Andrew Shotland  March 27, 2008 at 3:35 pm


    I think the print books will be around as long as print is still around, but I’ll need to question your on your conversion rate thing. While YP probably has a higher conversion rate the Web probably has a huge advantage in usage so as local search gets better and people get more used to it, it will only need a fraction of the yp conversion rate to compete with the print book.

    Thanks for stopping by of course.

  • Will  March 28, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Andrew, I wrote something about this last week (http://tinyurl.com/3exdwy) about the YPs and their decline. I agree with Local Hound that the conversion rate may be higher from actual print, but I think that still depends on the demographic using the books in the first place.

    I doubt my 15 year old even knows there is such a thing as print YPs. That’s what my Treo is for, right?

  • Bob C  March 29, 2008 at 4:28 am

    My anecdotal experience of passing through Berkeley recently validates this. You could probably pile the left-over phonebooks as high as the Campanellie tower. I wonder if there’s a “green” argument to be made in encouraging online lookups.

  • dhurowitz  March 29, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Yellow Pages, buggy whips and victrolas, Ah those were the days. Using yellow pages today would be like replacing your GPS in your car with a good set of local paper maps. Just don’t understand how they are surviving except for the fact the many people are resistant to change. The lack of updated information, the page flipping, poor use of space and waste of raw materials add up to door stops waiting to be recycled.

  • Chris Estes  April 2, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    As a product of persons that still haven’t learned how to use local… In my recent move I was repeatdly told just get a phone book and look up places for Manhattan. Well the idea baffaled me at more than just the thought of how big a phone book for Manhattan would be and the sheer embarrasment of owning one.

    In a previous life I worked for a company that still advertises in the yellow pages and swears by it. The thing about it is there is no sure way to tell if their advertising really paid off. Online marketing is still the way to go. If anything else because of the metrics that are produced in almost real time.

  • Alex Ireland  April 20, 2008 at 9:47 am

    The Yellow Page industry will be around as long as they continue to make $14B a year. This is a huge profit center for the telephone companies and/or publishers. I think the biggest issue is not the book but the delivery. If I want one I will call and ask for one. I am tired of having them drop them on my door and tell me I need to recycle them. How many books end up in a landfill? 90% of them. They make 500M a year! Just stop the nonsense.

    I have searched the web trying to figure out how to get them to STOP. I have found some phone numbers to call but they are not easy to use. I did find one site (www.YellowPagesGoesGreen.org) that stated they will contact the publishers for free and tell them to stop delivering. Some other sites are starting a petition.

    I also see some local governments are writing some laws to stop this nonsense of delivering the book.

    My suggestion is they delivery the books in bags one week and have to come back the next week to pick up the old book from my doorstep in the recycle bag they left the new book in. If you are going to give me something I do not want you will need to pick up the other one (that I did not want either!)

  • Robin Allenson  October 27, 2009 at 6:33 am

    I think this quote still misses the point. The key reason why YPs are still alive and doing well (in the few cases where they are, of course): they are good at extracting revenues from advertisers. Yes, the number of people reading them offline dwindles each year and this usage position makes the revenues more and more precarious, but the revenues continue.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Nice to see you here Robin. I think you’re both right – Publishers will keep selling and those who use the print book will keep getting more of them.

    Can’t we all just get along? 🙂

  • sue  March 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, I absolutely hate yellow pages. I guess there are still a lot of older people around.

    This site made my day though…