Phone Books, Blogs, and New Media
An issue I’ve been following over the past year is phone books and the seemingly increased distribution of yellow pages by various companies. My opinion, like many others, is that these dinosaurs are wasteful and go unused by a large number of consumers, especially younger ones. Households and business that don’t use them are becoming increasingly annoyed at receiving regular deliveries by multiple yellow book companies throughout the year at their doorstep. Many don’t see a yellow book as a service; rather they see it as litter and spam.
Ken Clark is an advocate for the Yellow Pages Industry and often engages in spirited discussions on various blogs and sites, including mine. Ken Clark has also been operating the “Yellow Pages Environmental Forum” blog in order to debunk myths regarding the phone book’s demise. On these blogs Ken whips up numbers and statistics to defend the use of phone books, and also confronts percentages and figures levied by his opponents. Stats and figures from both sides are slung around fast like cowboy lassos on the plains. My view on this issue is based on what I observe, my behavior, and what my friends, co-workers, and peers do. Proudly non-scientific.
I took a read through his site last week, and my thoughts follow below. But first let’s bring up something that hasn’t made its way into the print versus internet debate yet.
One of Ken’s arguments for the continued propagation of phone books is that not all households have access to internet, and some that do are still on dial-up. However to my knowledge no one has mentioned the proliferation of mobile devices. These devices utilize cell providers and aren’t tethered to a land or Wi-Fi connections, thus negating arguments about the user being obligated to maintain a high speed internet account.
Mobile case in point: Me. A few months back I purchased the iPhone after the 3G model was released. Among being able to now send mobile blog posts from my booth at Barracuda’s, a far more useful tool is the stand alone Google Maps feature which allows you to type in any business, view their location on a map, and locate the business closest to you based on internal GPS.
I was in Florida a few weeks back. I had a lot of driving to do and forgot my iPod car cable. From the Tampa airport I “google mapped” Radio Shack and immediately found one on Busch Blvd, in the general direction I was heading. The next day, in Ocala, I needed a Walgreens to print some color photos and buy a few picture frames. From I-75 I typed it in and located the nearest one. This took all of 10 seconds, just like in this YouTube demo. Not only did I get the nearest business on map in relation to my location, but I could also call the business with one button, or visit their website. We also found a Waffle House in Tampa, again not by rummaging through the ratty motel phone book or stopping at a gas station asking to borrow a filthy copy, rather by hitting one button, typing “Waffle House,” and immediately viewing a map with directions on my mobile.
This isn’t a plug for the iPhone. There are many devices like the Sprint Instinct and Google’s new Android which house full internet functions in the palm of your hand. Technology writer Josh Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal explains that the separation of cell phone and mobile device is rapidly diminishing. More and more cell phones have the ability to search, surf, and locate while on the go. Almost everyone of all economic background owns a cell phone, and these features are creeping in to lower and lower price points. In terms of usability its far superior to a phone book: The screens on these mobile devices are sharp and easy to read – vastly overperforming their counterparts like the Razr phone. For a business person or frequent traveler this feature becomes something wonderfully essential. Even my Asus EEE “travel PC”, pictured above next to my iPhone, is about 1/4 the width of a phone book, and about 1/10 of the weight.
First, this blog claims to be a balanced discussion between environmentalism and the yellow pages industry; however I see the green movement mocked and dismissed in many posts. Just like statistics and figures, you can find articles written to back up any position. The list of negative content under the “Green News” category baffles me since the site says it attempts to be balanced. In fact its quite argumentative and defensive.
Second, I’m a bit dismayed at Ken’s discounting of blogs as “half a brain” kid stuff activities.
You’ve seen them — bloggers who by virtue of the fact that they have a keyboard, an Internet connection, and half a brain can start spewing all kinds of inaccuracies across hyperspace.
In this post he quotes my article from March of this year discussing opt-outs. My post is also incorrectly linked and my words referenced to an spam aggregator site that ripped off my content.
If the blogosphere is so irrelevant to the industry, then Ken wouldn’t have created his own blog. In addition, the questioning of phone books and their sales tactics isn’t limited to small scale local community blogs like mine. Dan Savage at Seattle’s The Stranger has taken on phone books. the Consumerist has brought up this issue. The Denver Post addressed the concern when another wallop of books hit our area, and local NBC affiliate KUSA did a story over the summer too. These aren’t bored twentysomethings sitting in their parents’ basement trying to pick on Ken. These are solid media outlets. And even if it is “citizen journalism,” these are people who’ve taken the time to craft their thoughts and articulate their views for others to read. To outright dismiss them as “half brained” dimwits doesn’t bode well for the source.
Third, an item on the YP Green blog that I question is the correlation between the size of an ad versus the reputation of the company. Ken seems to think that a company willing to place a half page ad in a yellow book will separate it from the “fly by night” companies:
When you use a book you also get a quick visual indication (subjective as it is) about the viability of the business you are looking at – those print ads aren’t free and if that company has bought a half page ad this is probably not some fly-by-night, Johnny come lately company
I disagree. Take moving companies for example. They’re among the worst industries for customer abuse, and occupy some of the largest real estate in local phone books. If ABC Moving changed hands over the summer and service has been dodgy, I’m not going to find out about that via their full page ad. However if I do a local Google search for movers and find a history of crummy service I’ll know to avoid them. Consumer reviews, whether published on large sites like Angie’s List, or a sole rant on a blog, level the playing field for the consumer and make huge impacts on the decision making process. Running a search for positive or negative reviews is a key component. Even Dwight Schrute agrees that Trip Advisor is key to maintaining his Bed and Breakfast’s reputation. You won’t find up to date concerns about Schrute Farms in your yellow pages.
Lastly, Ken Clark’s assertion that young people refuse to use media unless its online or digital is incorrect, or at least in my case. I occasionally leaf through a discarded newspaper while riding the bus. At times grab a copy of La Voz while waiting for the train station para practicar mi español. And, when I travel, I always carry a good paperback from my local used bookstore with me, which I pass along to others upon finishing. How’s that for paying the print forward? My non-stop deliveries of the yellow pages however will still wind up in the recycle bin. A futile production.