Dear Phone Book Publisher

Dear Dex Media, publisher of the “Yellow Book,”

Why are you still around? I considered this question last year when you left this dinosaur at my doorstop. I haven’t used a phone book since the 90s, and suspect many have dismissed them as well. Who would choose to page through this inky yellow mess when you can find a phone number, address, or business in seconds using Google or any other search variant – national or local. On the road? There’s Google Text, Google 411, and many others.

Point being anywhere a phone exists there’s most likely internet access or WiFi, making your product obsolete. Even in my office at work I don’t see phone books in cubicles or workstations anymore. They’re as useful and as relevant as cassette tape answering machines, VCRs, and Blockbuster Video.

Stop publishing these. It’s a waste of paper, and a waste of the plastic used to wrap them in. (Actually those make decent dog poop bags.) Also the only revenue these bring in – which is advertising, is sold under false pretenses. Just like magazines, phone book publishers base ad rates on circulation. So my handling of this book for five seconds between lifting it up, walking it to and heaving it into the recycle bin counts as an impression and/or user. Yeah right.

As with 90% of everything else I comment on I’m certainly no expert. So if you work for Dex, sell phone book ad space, or sell any other product that nobody uses – please comment and let me know how you’re able to put food on your family. I’m honestly curious.

Meanwhile if you’re not building a time capsule here is where to recycle your phone book. James Van Dellen

19 thoughts on “Dear Phone Book Publisher

  1. Those books you are so annoyed about where referenced nearly 15 billion times last year. And that’s just the print versions. 90% of all adults reference them at least once a year, 75% in a typical month, and 50+% on average month. How about on average 1.4X each week?

    While the popular myth is that this industry is responsible for the neutering of forests, the reality is the Yellow Pages industry doesn’t knock down any trees for its paper!!! Let me repeat that they don’t need to cut any trees for their paper supply. Currently, on average, most publishers are using about 40% recycled material (from the newspapers and magazines you are recycling curbside), and the other 60% comes from wood chips and waste products of the lumber industry. If you take a round tree and make square or rectangular lumber from it, you get plenty of chips and other waste. Those by-products make up the other 60% of the raw material needed. Note that these waste products created in lumber milling would normally end up in landfills. Not only that, as wood chips decompose, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas closely associated with global warming. Paper manufacturing thus puts these chips to good use. Many paper providers will also use 5% or less of recycled directories in their paper creation.

    The other myth is that the Internet is all we need. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the broadband market is about tapped out. There will always be a good percentage of the population that will never have access to the industry’s Internet products. Barely more than 50% of households in the U.S. (about 56 million homes), currently subscribe to a high-speed Internet service. An additional 21 million households still use dial-up connections (yes, you read that right dial-up connections).

    Net net: yes, there are plenty of people who use those books James. And also the Internet too….

  2. Ken thanks for the insightful comments. I believe your comments on recycling. Which is why as much as I despise a clunky phone book left at my doorstep I do make an effort to recycle them. However it would be best if one could simply “opt-out.” I visited again and found no option to do this.

    Why? Circulation. Same stategy as newspapers and magazines. Pump up circulation numbers by giving away papers to those who don’t want it. A few years back the Rocky Mountain News was delivering “complimentary papers as a courtesy” on and off to various neighborhoods. When citizens said “knock it off” it quickly ceased. I’m saying the same to phone book publishers. I don’t want your product, and have no interest in it. To leave it at my door is wasteful and instrusive.

    Regarding the numbers? I’m basing my comments on what I see. I’m in my 30s. I have friends spanning 20s to 60s and I just don’t see phone books in their kitchens or at their desks. Hell some of us don’t even have landlines. I work in a building with over 300 people and very few salespeople have phone books in their cubicles. The numbers in your first paragraph cite an average use of 1.4 times a week. But I’d be shocked if the median age was below 50.

    Like newspapers it’s a generational thing. I enjoy sitting at a diner every now and then reading a Sunday paper – but day to day I get my news online from various news sites local and global. The same reasons print newspapers are rapidly declining are the same reasons for phone book decline.

    There will always be a good percentage of the population that will never have access to the industry’s Internet products.

    I don’t believe this. You’re correct some families do not have internet access. However 1st graders are internet savvy, and even in schools lacking decent internet facilities kids still understand online searching and networking concepts. These “anchor internet babies” will increase online use in tandem with cities (attempting) to bring universal WiFi. And the generation who doesn’t use or has no interest in the internet will eventually die off.

    If there’s a graph with one line trending up showing those who use the internet regularly versus a downward trend of the generation that doesn’t – I believe that the upward trend has far crossed the downward – especially as more and more young people have the resources available. Thanks One Laptop Per Child.

    Of course I disagree but I appreciate the note.

    • James, if the Internet is such a gold mine for you and you can find whatever you want when you want, why is it that you couldn’t find the “opt-out” number and just call it instead of making a big deal out of how useless you find someone’s business? I have access to the Internet and use it all day, every day on my job. I’m probably just as good if not a better searcher than you as that’s part of my job. But, surprisingly enough when I go home and want to look up a phone number for a local business or person, I head to the phone book. It may partly be out of habit, but I like the ability to look (scan) the ads that some have provided, which gives me a real quick reference to what services they provide and don’t provide. Otherwise, I would have to go to Google, type in “taylor, and zip code” click each link, find my way around their Web site looking for whether or not they may have what I want or need and do this with each “hit” before having an idea about where to start.

      I’m not saying that I don’t LOVE the Internet and the ready reference it is for all sorts of information, because I do, but I think sometimes there are other more convenient methods for some tasks. I would be happy to note a few, but don’t want to get off on a bunny trail.

      My last question would be “what do you do when the power is out at your house and you need a phone number?” I guess you could call 411, but in my area, they charge for this service. I would rather have my trusty phone book to look up a number than pay someone to look it up for me. But that’s me…..and a few others I suspect. It’s nice that you have the Internet, but a lot of people still do not (my mother for one) or with dial up it takes so long to get a search downloaded and useful, that a phone book is much faster, so phone books are still a necessity for some. So opt out if you want and let the phone book companies continue to publish until it no longer works for them. By then, maybe everyone will have high speed Interent. Have a nice day!

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  4. While I’m glad to read KenC’s comment about recycling and so on, I have to agree with James. I haven’t used a paper phone book in YEARS.

    However, if they’re still in use SOME places, then find, allow us to Opt Out of receiving the books. Send out a poll, do a survey (I can write you one on Zoomerang for free!) and at least find out how much money (in actual dollars and time) the phone companies could save just by allowing customers to opt out.

  5. I’d like to point out that Dex Media does not publish Yellow Book. Yellow Book publishes Yellow Book. Get your facts straight gang. You may not use print yellow pages but an overwhelming % of the population still does. Are you going to try and claim that directory publishers are so crafty that they fool every advertiser year after year to continue advertising because print DOESN’T work? Wow they must be really talented. Thnk about it.

  6. Hmm, there are other companies beside Yellow Book who have phone books. They’re sometimes even useful, when Google gives you too many results for a business you want to find. The Verizon phone book sitting at my prents’ house is small and relatively easy to find stuff in. Then again, the area it covers couldn’t be more than 20,000 people.

    How about this for a solution: have an online address where you can either stop receiving the phone book altogether or just have it sent to you as a link to a PDF online. I’m sure advertisers would approve of the high-quality tracking resulting from this.

    I’ve probably referenced the phone book five times in the past year, three of them for yellow pages. If they put it online, accessible via text message, whatever, they could probably get more people to use it (fancy that!) and not have to spend however much money on paper, ink, shipping and plastic to give everyone a free fire starter. Wait…I have a sense that something in the phone book is toxic when burnt, not sure what…

  7. Both DEX ( and Yellow Book ( have lists of local companies that will recycle their phone books.

    However, if you’re looking to reduce the number or eliminate unwanted phone books, you’ll need to call the companies and request removal from their delivery lists.

    Call 1-877-243-8339 to opt-out of receiving DEX phone books. Call 1-800-929-3556 to opt-out of receiving Yellow Book directories. If you want to opt-out of the Verizon phone book, you can call 800-555-4833.

    It took us approximately five minutes to work through the opt-out process by phone with DEX and Yellow Book.

    DEX asked for an address and immediately removed it from delivery lists.

    A Yellow Book representative asked for a personal phone number during the opt-out process, saying it was needed so the company could call next year to see if we still wanted to opt-out. When we declined to provide a phone number, the Yellow Book representative said we may still receive unwanted phone books.

  8. Gah! I couldn’t possibly agree more!! I received a bag full of updated books about two weeks ago and have yet to even bring them inside. As I look up and down the hall of my complex, I realize that 5 of the 8 units haven’t bothered either. This is TWO WEEKS after delivery!! And of the 3 that have taken them in, I have to wonder how many went directly into the recycle bin. Thanks so much, Rebecca, for the opt-out numbers; I, for one, will put them to good use. Anyone have the Verizon number? For some dumb reason (I’m not a customer), I get them too…

  9. There is one function in which physical phone books have an advantage oner the web: Looking up businesses. If you want to find a lumberyard or a tailor in your town the phone book works extremely well and the web works extremely badly.

    If you never do, of course, you don’t need a book.

  10. Alan thanks for the comment and interest, however I must respectfully disagree. Actually I just re-read your comment and am wondering if you’re joking when you infer that the internet is a cumbersome tool for researching local business.

    But assuming you’re not: I typed “tailor, 80206″ into Google and found 10 tailors within a mile of my house. You can’t get more local than that, and it took me all of two seconds.

    If I searched “tailors” in a phone book I’d have to pore through businesses from one side of town to the other. If I’m looking for something CLOSE to me, (or local,) a phone book will provide a large percentage if irrelevant returns due to outlying locations.

    Sites like Google and City Search provide even MORE local detail by allowing me to drill down my results, and they allow the “long tail” of specific businesses to wag right into my neighborhood or anywhere else I want to find them.

    Not only that, but in addition to finding businesses on mobile devices or using GOOG-411, I can also see customer reviews, so if a certain tailor has a history of botching clothes I can avoid them. User reviews are extremely important to people today in making purchasing decisions.

    Sorry, but properly used the internet is a tool akin to a precision laser, whereas a phone book is a rock tied to a stick.

  11. @ Alan:

    I think this comment may have been applicable in the late 90s, before everyone advertised on the Net. I think that “traditional” and smaller businesses were slower to post online and you might have been able to find quality work in the phone book.

    But now since everyone under the sun has a website, it’s easier to search, research, and purchase products and services online.

    A phone book can’t do that.

  12. The search engines, Internet, and a technologically advanced younger generation will be the death of the printed Yellow Pages. The cost for ads and the knowledge that they are static and cannot be changed for one year will be a huge hindrance. Yahoo and Google are primed to capture the advertising dollars. Do not downplay the “going green” movement. This is something the Yellow Page industry downplays and stresses that they are green because they recycle. But how many of the 500 million printed books are thrown in the trash? Too many. Local governments have started to pass laws to stop the delivery of telephone books to people that do not want them. An “opt out” application has been developed at The industry has to change are they will be dead.

  13. For those of us who have actually had to deal with the salespeople at the above mentioned companies have seen first hand the corporate arrogance that runs deep. Why do we allow pushy people selling overpriced ad space in a dying market make us feel we are nothing without them? I have found that most people are bullied into believing that the price they are paying is the price everyone else is paying and its just the way it is. They will spit facts at you and pump you up so you see their self generated greatness. I look forward to the day that reality sets in on this industry. If each market set up a blog that compared what one company is paying vs another we would all see the truth I speak of. Beware of becoming a victim, they will pray on your weaknesses and exploit you whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good sales people out there who really do care. All in all we are just witnessing a dying market get the most bang for their buck on the way out. Priceless.

  14. I couldn’t agree more with those that appose the yellowpage print ads. I think this industry is dying. I see more and more people moving to the internet each day. Hell even my parents are no longer using the phonebook and they are in their 50’s. I despise the sales reps at these companies. Here is a perfect example of how they screw you on the rates. I am told that I will no longer have the first place position if I don’t pay a certain amount for advertising with them. And to show you how ridiculous this gets it is to the tune of 14K per month. The funny thing here is that internet advertising is around 155 per month. Quite a difference. Personally I would rather spend the money on multi million dollar house and a Ferrari than on a dying advertising medium. I say that business owners unite and put this industry in its place and force them to either make their advertising so cheap that anyone can have it or to get rid of it all together.

    • I’m really surprised with some of what I’m reading here. I am a busy professional and when I need to find a local business whether it’s for a pizza or for a hardwood floor, I look in my local phone book. I can’t imagine that business owners are so naive that they can’t so no to a pushy sales person. Apparently there must be a decent ROI for these businesses. If over 50% of people use the yellow pages every month to find a product or service than that seems to be a pretty good investment to me.

      What I don’t understand is the money that is spent advertising on things like billboards or radio. Billboards are just blocking the view and it’s nearly impossible to try to write down a phone number (if there is only shown) while you’re driving past and I know that when I’m listening to the radio I want to hear music not commercials and the station is quickly changed when I hear them.

      From what I’ve seen, the phone books seem to all have online directories as well. When I am researching something that I’d like to buy, then I most definitely use the internet. When I’m ready to buy, I look in either my phone book or and call.

      I guess what I’m saying is that a printed phone book is no more or less relevant than the internet. I expect businesses to be in both places. Otherwise they’re missing out on potential jobs.

  15. First of all DEX does not publish “Yellowbook” directories. Secondly as a rep for DEX I can tell you honestly that the temptation is there to believe that no one uses the yellow pages anymore. But we like to hold ourselves accountable and offer tracking in our client’s yellow page ads. This is when we buy a phone number from the phone company and put that number in the businesses ad and it is only found in the book that it is published in. When someone calls that number it rolls over to the number that they give us.. What is interesting is that MOST of the customers that do this become believers real quick. The report is very detailed displaying the phone number that called, what time of day they called, what day of the week, how many rings it took for the business to answer, and how long the call lasted. With this information the business can evaluate how many NEW customers the business received. I personally make over 80k and love my job. I help businesses make money and if those businesses didn’t make money off of their advertising then they would cut and I would lose revenue…BUT they keep buying ad space from me..Is this because they are dumb business owners, or that I am a hell of a salesman, or could it possibly be that they are actually seeing a return on their investment? HMMMMMMM! I would guess that out of the almost million dollars I handle every year they see a return. But to those that think the print is dead…we offer online solutions, mobile solutions, website solutions, 1-800-call-dex, and all kinds of media! I get the fact that the print is losing ground…BUT we have positioned ourselves to offer other proven solutions so our customers can grow their business!

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