Should Consumers Be Able To Opt-Out Of Phone Book Deliveries?

Phone book publishers spit out over 600 million phone books for just over 300 million Americans. Now the $17 billion a year industry is defending itself from state legislatures that want to restrict phone book circulations so consumers don’t wreck their snowblowers when they hit snow-covered phone books. True story.

The association has paid outside lobbyists about $50,000 so far this year to defend it in communities across the country. Two main points the group tries to get across are that phone books help promote local businesses and that they are made almost entirely from wood scraps collected at saw mills and recycled paper.

In Albany, city councilman Joseph Igoe is trying to build support for a law that would limit the distribution of phone books and require publishers to make it easy for people to halt delivery. Igoe said the issue came to his attention while campaigning door-to-door last spring and saw phone books wrapped in plastic littering sidewalks, driveways and lawns.

If Igoe succeeds in passing legislation, it will be noteworthy. Proposals have been floated — without success — by state legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Washington.

Phone book publishers peddle the usual free market babble to defend the proliferation of yellow doorstops, saying it’s a “sign of competition in a healthy business.”

Even residents who do want more than one phone book — such as 81-year-old Jean Angell, who lives in Igoe’s district and likes to keep a phone book by each phone in her house — get fed up with the extras.

“They delivered two to the house across the street, and it’s been vacant since last October,” she said.

What do you think?

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As phone books multiply, so do consumer hang-ups [AP]
(AP Photo/Bill Sikes)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Pylon83 says:

    Seriously, people still use phonebooks? I don’t think I’ve had a phonebook in my apartment for a few years. Seems like a huge waste of paper to me.

  2. esd2020 says:

    YES! I mean, it might put the phone book people out of business… but really they’re just ripping off local small business owners who are under the mistaken impression that people still use phone books.

    My apt. building currently has a stack of at least 30 books in the hall, waiting to be moved to the dumpster.

  3. cabinaero says:

    They @esd2020: At least yours are in the hall. Here they sit outside molder until someone drags them to the dumpster.

  4. Fujikopez says:

    What a waste of resources. I hate phone books. We moved from a rural location to a metropolitan location a few years ago and were inundated with multiple, huge phone books. They do nothing but annoy me, because it’s a waste, and I have to haul them to recycling.

  5. esd2020 says:

    You’ll be sorry the next time you have to prop up the TV stand by 4 inches.

  6. williehorton says:

    I advertise my computer repair business in the yellow pages. For me, it’s the best form of advertising: it’s durable (unlike the newspaper), relatively cheap (unlike newspaper, radio or TV), and it works when the customer’s PC does not.
    So far, Internet advertising is worthless to me.

  7. tenio says:

    phone books are useful for ripping out pages to help start a fire!

  8. sponica says:

    I like phone books every once in a while, particularly the takeout/delivery section that I find is easier to use than the internet. Additionally, the phone books will include menus from those places who wish to pay for them.

  9. DragonflyLotus says:

    I’ve gotten 6 phone books delivered since I moved into this house March of this year. I’ve only kept one, and that one is just the right height to keep the little TV in my home office at perfect viewing level. I’ve never looked inside it, though.

    At the apartments I used to manage, I’d have to haul a load to the recycler 3 or 4 times a year since they always managed to bring them when all the students were on break (and rain was on the way).

    Yeah, opt-out would be great.

  10. tedyc03 says:

    This is a funny thing to see today because on Friday the phone book was delivered to my apartment complex. I left mine in the hall outside my door. Why? I don’t want it, need it, etc. Google works great. Seriously folks.

  11. varro says:

    @esd2020: The idea of “small businesses need phone book advertising” falls flat when every other business in your field also has ads.

    In my field (bankruptcy attorneys), I can’t compete with people who can afford half-page or full-page ads. Why should I pay for a smaller ad? I’ll advertise somewhere else.

    Somewhat more than half of the phone books I see get recycled unread, and if someone actually does need one, there’s a mountain of them in the lobby of my building every book delivery season.

  12. B says:

    Maybe I don’t understand business, but wouldn’t a company who pays millions to produce phone books want to know which of the people they give them to never use the things? It wouldn’t make the phone books any less effective, but it would make them cheaper to produce.

  13. nicemarmot617 says:

    Our last apartment complex was inundated with frickin’ useless phone books. Every other month someone would dump a stack of them outside our apartment. Different companies every time too! I used to drag whole stacks of them down to the recycling room in the basement. It was such a waste, it was really annoying. In our new building it seems that the doormen have told the phone book delivery people to get lost because I haven’t seen hide nor hair of a phone book. Yay!!

  14. Dobernala says:

    Wait, why would you want to give phonebooks to people who just want the choice not to receive them? They’re going to throw them out anyway. This would be doing them a favor: target only the people who WANT the books and will actually look at the ads. Let the people who don’t want them not have them.

  15. InThrees says:

    I’m having a hard time imagining an answer to a question beginning “Should consumers be able to opt out of…” that isn’t no.

  16. humphrmi says:

    @williehorton: Are you actually getting responses from the phone book ads you run? Because based on what I read here, you’re paying for a lot of thrown away ad space. I’m not being flippant; I’m genuinely curious as to whether businesses that advertise in the yellow pages actually see a better response from it (than, say, online).

  17. williehorton says:

    @varro: I had a friend with the same problem: he wasted his share of a huge settlement on a full-page ad in the local phone book. Unfortunately, all the bigger law firms had two-page spreads.
    Increase in business: about zero.

    My ad competes by content, not size, and I also have a “head of category” display ad in-column at the very beginning of the ‘Computers-Svce & Repair’ category. It definitely works for me, paying for itself about 10 or 15 times over each month… but it wouldn’t work if I were a lawyer!

  18. humphrmi says:

    @williehorton: And, btw, might I add: you should be especially supportive of consumer opt-out. Even if you get better responses from YP, a consumer who wants to opt-out and not receive a phone book is probably not your target market anyway. The publishers don’t want opt-out because then they will have to charge you less for your ads.

  19. floraposte says:

    @Dobernala: I suspect they charge for their ads based on X number of deliveries, regardless of whether or not people ever open the things.

    I would actually opt in for one company’s phone books but I wouldn’t waste time with the other. At base, though, I think it’s absurd that customers wouldn’t have the right to say no to get something dumped on their property.

  20. williehorton says:

    @humphrmi: Last year, I used “tracking numbers” forwarded to my main phone to answer this very question. They sent me a report each month, and I was getting dozens of calls per month on each tracking number.
    This year, however, they wanted to charge me for the tracking numbers, so I ditched them and put my main number in all the ads.
    I definitely get at least two or three calls per day from new customers who found me in the Yellow Pages. I don’t do any other advertising, and referrals always identify themselves as such.

  21. camman68 says:

    What if we all took our unwanted phonebooks and left them of the front step of the phone company (or printer, etc) that published it?

  22. DeeJayQueue says:

    @humphrmi: I can see his point. If your computer is broken, how are you going to get online to find a computer repair place? Next step, go to the phone book.

    For pretty much everything else, if you can’t find it with google, it doesn’t exist.

  23. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    awww <3 Worcester <3

  24. williehorton says:

    @humphrmi: I am extremely supportive of opt-out: I don’t want the damn things on my lawn either!

    I’m a bottom-feeder. My business is so small, with such low overhead, that I only need to book about fifteen hours a week to do well. The customer base I need to do that is less than half a percent of the local population. The phone book helps me reach that many people, and more, without worrying about losing people who opt-out.

  25. Coles_Law says:

    I like and prefer my phone book to the Internet, but if someone wants to opt out, they should be able to. I don’t get why the phone book companies are against this. If it’s going straight to the dumpster, they’re not reaching anyone and they eat the cost of printing it.

  26. scoobydoo says:

    Not allowing customers to opt out of this junk mail is the only thing keeping these companies alive. If people could tell the various publishers to get lost, their distribution numbers would drop, people would stop advertising and before you know it, they’d be gone for good. When I switched from Vonage to Comcast, I apparently got added to the “send anything you can” list. In 3 days time I had 5 phone books/yellow pages on my doorstep AND calls from each company asking if I enjoyed the valuable coupons in the packages. When I told them I had already thrown them all out, they seemed surprised.

  27. williehorton says:

    I might add that there is no {risk | hope} of customer opt-out here in Delaware. The Legislature can’t agree to wipe their butts, let alone challenge businesses who throw crap on our lawns.

  28. PinkBox says:

    I never know what to do with the MANY phone books I receive. Seriously, I get several of them. Completely unnecessary.

    I have an annoying neighbor who never bothers to pick his up, either. He has a good 10+ of them sitting beside his door.

  29. krispykrink says:

    Yes! I’ve gotten 4 so far this year and I don’t want or need them. Good thing we have a recycle bin out by the trash.

  30. godlyfrog says:

    @Dobernala: Because it’s just like TV advertising; they can say they reach “x” number of people and charge accordingly. For every person that opts out, that’s less they can charge for ads. It’s in their best interest to deliver as many phone books as possible, even if the address is abandoned or non-existent.

  31. dragonvpm says:

    @Pylon83: Actually, in my job (running construction projects in multiple states) I like having a copy of the local phone book so I can find all the businesses in the area, including those w/o an internet listing.

    Depending on where you’re looking, the number of businesses that are in the phone book and NOT to be found online can be significant (that’s been very noticeable for a project we started in MS)

    For my home though, I don’t even have a landline and I still got 4 or 5 books this past Spring. That seems a bit much.

  32. jamesdenver says:

    I’ve been writing and following phone books and how much I despise them. People CAN opt out of phone book delivery here in Denver – however they have to provide their phone # and address.

    I’ve posted twice on how annoying these books are – and received defensive made up numbers from Ken Clark, head of the Yellow Pages industry. (A dying industry at that)

    He’s peppered my and other blogs with comments on how great phone books are:


    Here’s how to opt out – with another defensive angry retort by Ken.


    Also what’s even more laughable is that phone books create their rates based on distribution. Are circulation numbers, (which are used for ad rates,) based on DISTRIBUTION? Or are they somehow whittled down to actual customer USE.

    If myself, other consumers, and businesses choose to dispose of just 20% of the phone books thrown about the city that’s a huge discrepency. I can’t see how its ethical to use the total distribution number in front of a client.

    Is the “disposal” factor taken into account when pitching clients distribution numbers?

  33. jamesdenver says:

    Also last year Seattle’s alternative weekly covered this – and they collected the mountains of books and dumped them off back at the publisher:


  34. categorically says:

    Directly from my driveway in to the recycle bin….

  35. catland says:

    I live in a large high-rise building. Out of over 100 phone books, only about 4 are taken, the rest are eventually carted off in their big plastic bundles to the trash. What a waste. I’ve only seen people who do not ever want a computer/internet take them. Huge waste. Too bad we can’t all get cheaper phone service if they cut back on production and made them an item folks had to buy or request.

  36. williehorton says:

    Here’s the problem with most advertising for repair services: it is delivered when people do not need the product.

    When I advertised in the newspaper, for example, it cost four times as much as my Yellow Pages ads. By the end of the day, virtually every single copy of my ad was lining a catbox. The problem is even more acute with radio and TV: unless the customer is in front of their dead PC and listening to your ad, they don’t call you.

    When something breaks, potential customers don’t search through the newspaper, or turn on the radio, or watch TV, hoping to see an ad for a company that might help them. They pick up the annual paper “directory” that lists all the local businesses, and peruse the ads in the appropriate category.

    In any kind of repair business, if you ain’t in the phone book, you ain’t open.


  37. jamesdenver says:

    To all those who question “why don’t the companies save themselves money and print less”

    Its about circulation: The more eyes they SAY they reach, the higher the rates are to advertisers. I don’t they volunteer the “disposal factor” to clients.

    I don’t know the difference in price between printing 200,000 vs 250,000 – but the rates that 250,000 command would be much higher and more than pay for any additional printing costs.

    Its just like when they give away the Sunday paper for free.

    “Wow look at how many people read the paper” — as I pitch it into the dumpster.

  38. MoogleLally says:

    Now, I should disclose, I’m in my early 20s and I don’t own a home.

    Okay. That out of the way. We get our phone books and immediately recycle them. I use the internet or friends/family for business suggestions. Maybe, someday in the future, I’ll want a phone book. But in the meantime… I’m good.

    The phone book is in the same boat as newspapers ads and even ads on tv (to some extent). You’re trying to promise someone that people will see them and use them in a resource that the client themselves hardly uses anymore.

    It’s just another evolution in the changing world of advertising.

  39. williehorton says:

    @jamesdenver: Remember when USA Today got caught counting all the copies they gave to hotels as part of their paid circulation?

  40. jamesdenver says:


    Willie in the past five years I’ve needed furnace repair, plumber, tile guy, hot tub heater repair person – and I’ve used word of mouth of internet for every single one.

    Sorry to be such a post hog – but one last thing that makes the internet far superior to the yellow pages: REVIEWS. If a company has a history of botching things up the phone books won’t tell you that. But a quick Google or local Citysearch will. That’s important knowledge you don’t get via the dinosaur.

    Someone posted this asinine comment on my site when I questioned the need for phone books:

    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.

    Assuming this wasn’t a joke, I replied:

    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.

  41. Sam Glover says:

    God yes. I tried to stop them, but they just keep on coming . . . and go straight through the back door to the recycling bin.

  42. williehorton says:

    I can tell you one group that definitely uses the phone book: business-to-business telemarketers.
    I get about ten calls a week, looking for “the owner.”

  43. williehorton says:

    @jamesdenver: Yeah, but you’re not my target customer.
    You’re probably not downloading spyware, and you can obviously figure out how to Google stuff.
    Plus, you can actually access the Internet. Half of my initial customer contacts start out with “I can’t get online…”

  44. tedyc03 says:

    @B: Advertising rates are set based on circulation. If they circulate less phone books, even though the count now reflects who reads it, it means that they can’t charge as much for their advertising.

  45. deadspork says:

    Yes, yes, and YES. We get a phone book every single year, and we NEVER use it – thanks to google maps. The stupid thing sits around collecting dust until one of us finds the time to dump it in the trash & take it out. It’s not a huge annoyance, but it is a huge waste of paper.

  46. Triborough says:

    The Yellow Book (pictured above and in the post) is basically spam in physical form. It just has listings from those who paid to get in it. It is basically useless, unwanted spam. I remember they had some bad TV commercials touting how brilliant it was.

    I also think they employ some aggressive marketing techniques to get ads in their spam publication, too.

    On the other hand, the real Yellow Pages, in my case produced by Verizon, actually can be useful. Say you have a power failure and can’t get on the internet and need an electrician.

    Often it is much more useful to grab the Yellow Pages where, shock of all shocks, you find businesses that don’t turn up in an internet search – even the phone company’s online Yellow Pages.

    Plus, there are many people who aren’t on the internet who use it and they can be good emergency booster seats for kids.

    Now notice in the photo above that the size of the Yellow Pages has actually shrank from about ten years ago, well at least in New York. That shows a reduction in the amount of paper needed and I think most of the paper they use is recycled anyway.

    In short, real Yellow Pages are a keeper while Yellow Book and any other bits of physical spam should be treated as the unwanted litter they are.

  47. Robobot says:

    Eh, I’m torn. When we don’t have internet for whatever reason- or are, gasp! limited to dial-up- the phone book is a real life saver. I also like to use directories to find local businesses, but it’s increasingly easy for even the smallest mom and pop company to make their presence known online. (And that’s really great, don’t get me wrong.)

    Overall the phone book is probably pretty wasteful, especially in urban areas where internet cafes and libraries are just a few blocks away and high-speed internet is widely available. Opting out I can support, but hopefully they don’t eliminate deliveries all together or begin charging for them.

    This is all personal opinion and personal history talking, so yeah.

  48. williehorton says:

    This discussion is very important to me, folks:
    When the phone book does stop bringing me new customers, I will need a backup plan.
    Thanks for helping me create one.

  49. williehorton says:

    @Triborough: I agree 100%.
    The phone company’s directory brings me results. The Yellow Book brings me nothing except a monthly bill.

    I cut them down from a $110/month display ad to a $17/month name-only listing this year. Next year, they get NOTHING.

  50. Joe S Chmo says:

    If my computer is broken I will just use the library or work computer to look up a computer repair shop. There should definitely be an opt out for this sort of ‘product’

  51. Etentum says:

    To the relatively huge number of people wondering why the phone book companies would hate opt-outs, consider this: they make more money when they can say, “Our book is delivered to 150 million homes in the US” or “Our book is delivered to every residential address in your local city” than when they say “We only deliver to a few million residents because 147 million people opted out” and “Our book is delivered to half the people in your local city because of the opt-out process.”

  52. Rolcol says:

    Ah. I love Goog411 (800-466-4411). I have no need for a phonebook really. It’s faster to wake the computer from sleep than search for the missing phonebook.

  53. Kirk Douglas says:

    In Ontario, only the phone companies deliver phone books, and only if you’re a subscriber. It’s convenient because the Telus Superpages suck.

  54. dragonvpm says:

    @jamesdenver: As I mentioned above, the internet vs phone book debate is very site specific. In some areas (i.e. larger cities) you can find everything you want online (heck I can get food delivered to my house via internet), but there are still quite a few places (and some industries like construction) that aren’t as well represented online. I’ve dealt with a lot of construction trades that do great work but have nearly no or no online presence. Or, for instance, I was looking for a company for a home alarm and I had trouble crafting a good search that covered companies that did home alarms in my area. By contrast, the phone book gave me a dozen options in a couple of seconds and I knew they were companies doing business in the city.

    Not to mention that the yellow pages tend to be more accurate than some online entries because as part of selling the listing to each company, they check to make sure their information is as current as possible. I know I run across more inaccurate online directory entries and webpages than inaccurate phone book entries.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like searching for businesses online, but results are definitely still at a ymmv point and I’ve seen some areas (and some people) getting better results from a phone book (it’s a known quantity and that make some folks, like my dad, more comfortable).

  55. drjayphd says:

    @williehorton: Ugh, yes, we get those all the time at work. It’s hilarious when they ask for the publisher, thinking they’ll get his direct line.

  56. rpm773 says:

    When I lived in an apartment, I never bothered to pick mine up. It just lay there until the rains came.

    Sometimes I’d get a call from the yellowpages people asking if I received my phone book. I presume it’s done to check up on the temp labor they hired to distribute them, but it’s always entertaining to tell them “I think there was a stack of books outside last week, but I never bothered to pick one up”.

    I like to think that I’m part of the solution.

  57. Matt_C says:

    I place a new a phone book showing up on my doorstep within the same category as my neighbor’s dog crapping on my lawn.

    I don’t know anyone, even my grandparents, who still use a phone book thanks to the internet. It’s only a matter of time before these archaic wastes of paper and ink are dead and buried. Perhaps w/ the Green Living movement, enough negative sentiment can be generated to make a future opt-out list a reality.

    The whole issue is correlative to telemarketing agencies who fought for years to repeal the Do Not Call List.

  58. deadspork says:

    Also, I realise they say they’re made “almost entirely” of recycled things, but that’s still some that isn’t – and that will add up quickly sending out 6mil a year!

  59. kc2idf says:

    I do still use a phone book. Unfortunately, I get three different Albany phone books every year.

    Much more useful would be if one of the publishers brought me a Saratoga phone book, and one brought me a Tulsa phone book. That would be an arrangement I could use.

  60. wagnerism says:

    When passing the law for this one, also include those horrid free “newspapers” with day-old news and a bunch of ads.

    I have to contact them occasionally to get them to stop, they forget and its easier to spam than it is to be selective about where they drop their litter.

    I didn’t get real action until I started CC’ing them on the emails to their advertisers.

  61. I am confused.

    I already opted out of receiving phone books at my residence in NYC.

    It did take a little effort – and the people at the respective phonebook companies were confused – but I have yet to receive another phonebook from anyone in at least three years.

  62. seraphicstar says:

    we get phone books way more often than we should at work… we all have computers and google is faster than flipping through pages…
    oh and, worcester pride… lol… :p

  63. SuperJdynamite says:

    Why not just fine them for illegal dumping or littering?

    Seriously, though, if they want to distribute printed material to people they can use the mail like the rest of us.

  64. balthisar says:

    Well… I’m mixed. I voted the “have you heard of the internet” option, but it doesn’t work during a power failure. In fact, during our last power failure, I was kicking myself in the butt because I routinely throw out the phone books when they get here.

    In that case, I wanted to call the power company (report an outing, news, etc.). Yeah, I remembered 800-goog-411, but try asking for “Detroit Edison” — you get all the payment offices, work offices, dispatch offices, and everything but the actual 800 number.

    I keep telling myself I’ll be okay if I get an iPhone, but since I have a work cellular, I pretty much just pay AT&T to forward and preserve my number for me. If only my work used AT&T…

  65. TVarmy says:

    I would love to opt out, or better yet, have the phone company/phonebook company deliver them to people who order them, so that those who feel they need a physical phone book can get it, while leaving the rest of us and the environment alone.

  66. cloud-on-a-bike says:

    Although an option to opt-out of a phonebook delivery would be awesome, I’d probably still accept mine. The one thing I use the phonebook for the most that I didn’t see many people mention on here are menus. I just moved to a bigger city in a different state, but in my old town I would always be able to find a ton of different menus for the local restaurants (chain and non-chain) that I couldn’t find online because the business didn’t have a Web site (this goes mostly for the non-chains). Back where I used to live, most of the local non-chains weren’t that internet savvy so the phonebook was a godsend when I wanted to see what they offered before driving to town.

  67. cloud-on-a-bike says:

    Ohhh and just an additional note, if you get phone books you don’t want and you want an option besides recycling them, you could always try donating them to your local library. My library always got a lot of phone books delivered but patrons would often steal them or forget to give them back, so we always ended up needing extras. Out of town phone books were also helpful because we used them in our reference section. You’d be surprised at how many people still come in and ask to look something up in an old-fashioned phone book, even when we suggested they could use the net instead!

  68. DeafLEGO says:

    Stop delivering them and just stack a few up at the local libraries and if some landline user needs one, they can go pick one up?

  69. bohemian says:

    We got another phone book jammed in our mail box (is that legal?) a few weeks ago. It went from the mail box to the recycling bin in the garage.

    I was cleaning out the front closet a week later and found a couple from the year we bought the house, both never used.

    Our state legislature is useless. The only way we could get them to give us some ability to opt out would be to convince them that there is porn or abortions in the phone book.

  70. My keyboard has a typo key says:

    It should not be opt-out. It should be opt-in. If you want a book, call and have it brought out to you.

    In my building there is at least 4 different kinds of yellow pages of some sort. All they do is clutter up the mailroom in the lobby. Huge stacks of books no one ever grabs. How do i know… The plastic wrap is never broken. As it stands now. The landlord after a week. Recycles them out.

    I look up numbers so infrequently. I do not mind paying for D_A. The rest is in my personal phone directory.

  71. RandomHookup says:

    Even though they are unwanted…throw the damn things away! Yeah we hate them, but they aren’t going fly into the recycling bin by themselves.

  72. illtron says:

    I do my neighbors the favor of dumpsterifying them. I’ll give it a few days, and if they’re still there, I drop them down the garbage chute.

  73. TechnoDestructo says:

    I still use a phone book a couple times a year.

    That doesn’t mean I like getting a shit-ton of phone books at home. I remember there used to always be a couple stacks of free phone books at most of the supermarkets where I grew up. When I moved away, and I found myself in need of a phone book (just as pay phones were starting to die out), I was quite nonplussed that I could not get one at the local supermarkets.

    IMO, that’s the way to distribute them. Just have racks of them in public places.

  74. timd1969 says:

    The telephone book should be opt in only! Both my neighbor and I travel frequently on business. We arrange for mail holds, use timed security lights, etc. Invariably when we are both on the road at the same time, someone props two telephone books against our front door advertising that no one is at home. It is especially nice to find them after a good rain that fills the plastic bag with a soggy mess.

  75. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    @Pylon83: My first thought as well. People still use these things?

  76. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    but then again what would strong men tear in half if not for the phonebook.

  77. FLConsumer says:

    I’m with timd1969. I travel very often and make arrangements to keep my homes as occupied-looking as possible. Only to have phone books dumped at my door.

    There are “No trespassing” and “No soliciting” at the front of my neighborhood, even gates, but they still keep dropping them off. I’ve lost count as to how many different books arrive at my doorstep, but it’s got to be at least 4 different ones per year, if not more.

    All of that said, I do keep the phone co’s books on-hand, probably change them out every few years. In hurricane country, communications are one of the first things to fail. Power’s the next. That said, I can’t remember the last time I’ve opened the phone books, but they’re there until the day I do.

  78. hermanfish says:

    I got rid of my land line more than five years ago, yet I still get 2-3 phonebooks on my doorstep every year. They go directly into my recycle bin. A total waste.

  79. MercuryPDX says:

    I get like 6 a year from all different companies. They go right into the recycle bin on the porch with all the flyers and other leave behind crap.

  80. Not Alvis says:

    It should NEVER be legal to leave unsolicited, NON-MAIL publications on someone’s yard.

    Littering for profit is still littering.

  81. ryaninc says:

    We moved into our new apartment 2 and a half months ago and we have already gotten THREE phone books. I haven’t looked at even one of them yet. Ridiculous waste of paper and money.

  82. Bruce says:


    That’s not true, word of mouth is better than gold when it comes to advertising. Consider the very website you posted on, no amount of advertising is going to endear Countrywide or Comcast to their customers or win new ones.

    When I need a plumber, pest control or a mechanic, I talk to family and friends and get their opinion. Who treated them well or tried to rip them off? I’ll trust my family or friends more than any ad.

    I get new customers for the simple fact that I made a previous customer happy with the quality of my work, not because I spend money on a book most people I know throw them away.

    My sister loves phone books, she shreds them and uses them for packing material fluff in her business. Thanks for the stacks and stacks of free packing supplies!

  83. XTC46 says:

    currently, we have like 200 copies of the phone book sittign in our Lobby. I ave not seen any disappear in the week since their delivery. There is a sign that says take them or they will be recycled in another week. What a waste. At work, our main office gets like 20 copies delievered, and we ask over and over to not get any more as we dont use them then have to throw them out.

  84. jhurley03 says:


    Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, but the phone book helped get my business off the ground. It has easily paid for an entire year of advertising costs in just the first month of being out.

  85. My keyboard has a typo key says:

    For those who are mentioning about power outages and such. Here is how I deal with that.

    For any service I pay for. Also for any non-emergency contacts. I have an entry in my phone and in the personal phone book in a drawer.

    Pulling a bill out is not all that hard really. Not to be smarmy and all. But all bills have a service number on them.
    So the rest can be internet based directory listing. If I feel really complled to have a number. I will pay the $1.50 or so to call and ask.

  86. Cliff_Donner says:

    OK – I own a private home, and freely admit I am an outdated dinosaur. That said:

    I like having a physical copy of the current telephone book. When looking to hire a contractor, one who has an ad in the legitimate “yellow pages” will definitely get my attention above others. (Also, a contractor who has a web page will immediately get bumped to the top of my list, above one who has none.)

    In the previous paragraph I suggested there was such a thing as the “legitimate yellow pages.” — but is the “Yellow Book” IT???

    Coz I can no longer tell. I get at least 3 differently branded official “phone books” dumped on my front step periodically. Most of these immediately end up, unused, in the recycling bin.

    And please let’s be clear, I am expressing a desire to have one copy each of the current, “official” white- and yellow-pages.

    I’d also add, I don’t need the follow-up calls from the “Robo-Whore” asking me to confirm that I’ve received said unsolicited books.

    And, just to throw another thought out there, isn’t “Dex On Line” — the natural on-line successor to the “official phone book” — not the most useless of reference tools?? Even the most specific search on this site yields dozens of irrelevant hits, and your desired target may not even be included among them. If this search engine was better, I might concede that a physical reference book was redundant.

  87. redkamel says:

    the phone book is ONLY useful if you are new to the area and need some sort of random/not common/not retail service…like fridge repair.

    for most people its a waste. They should just have a stack at the market people, and can pick it up for free.

  88. synergy says:

    Not only is there almost a perpetual stack of phone books that have been dropped at our mailboxes, but no one wants them! AND every phone company in the area comes and dumps their litter on the porch. So once AT&Ts trash finally gets removed, along comes Verizon, or some other local dealer. Ugh! The number of trees being felled for those stupid books that are more for advertisement than anything else just boggles my mind.

  89. My keyboard has a typo key says:

    @Cliff_Donner: I think you should have the ability to pick if you want the book or not. In many cases it is a good way to get your numbers.If that is the way you like to get them.

    As for a web site catering to what you mentioned. There is one. Matter of fact it is called,

    That is my first stop while looking for local numbers. In a way, it works well like the physical book. Only easier to lug around.

    Typing in for example. Heating and the area code brings up the sections that might work for you. As far as I can tell. It has the same listings as the actual book.

  90. FairMarkets says:

    I also think phone books have a purpose. Sometimes I think we all forget that finding things in paper directories is actually easier than using search engines. When you say it takes two seconds to type in the search, that really is not true. Actually think through the process:
    1) You think to yourself that you need to find a plumber because a pipe just broke in the middle of the night.
    2) Get up, turn on the computer and wait for it to boot up. Even waking up from hibernate mode takes more than two seconds.
    3) Open a web browser and wait for all of the extensions to load.
    4) Enter search phrase in your search box and hope you don’t mistype anything.
    5) Two second response if your network does not have to reestablish connection to ISP.
    6) Now spend 10-15 minutes going through all of the search results to check each vendor site to see if they are open 24 hours (and reading reviews will take longer).
    7) Call the phone number on web site and hope it hasn’t been disconnected. Otherwise keep looking at web sites.

    Now for the Phone Book:
    1) Open book and go to Plumbing, its in alphabetical order so finding it should not take more than a few seconds.
    2) Scan the ads for a 24-hour plumbers.
    3) Start making phone calls, if one is disconnected simply look at another ad right on the same page.
    4) Bonus: Many businesses provide a coupon in their ads.

    The phone books are also better for the environment in the sense that no power (other than lighting was needed to complete the search). You also create local jobs as it is hard to outsource printing and delivery.

    Just playing devil’s advocate.

  91. transiit says:

    Just started a flickr group on the subject so we can share our evidence: []

    When I moved a couple months ago, my local telco actually mailed me a new phone book.


  92. marsneedsrabbits says:

    I actually use phone books…

    1). To cut and glue on. I tear off new pages and have a clean work surface whenever I need to use an Exacto knife or a gun gun.

    2). For papier mache (though there is only so much papier mache a person can do).

    3). To put in the parrot’s cage – she loves to shred them.

    I don’t use them for looking up phone numbers, of course. That’s what the internet is for.

  93. oldtaku says:

    Yeah, I haven’t used a phone book in what, 8-10 years now? But they keep showing up anyhow, to go right in the recycle bin. What a senseless, useless, goddamn stupid waste all around.

  94. jamesdenver says:


    Sorry but respectfully that’s stretching it. A lot.

    1. I own a home and have had my share of plumbing misfortunes. If a pipe breaks in the middle of the night you know what’s done? You turn the water off at the source, cuss, go back to back to bed and call in the morning.

    2, 3, 4, 5: Nonsense. My PC is always on and the rest is just ridiculous exaggeration. I could find a plumber in my neighborhood faster than you typed point 4.

    6: Damn right reading reviews will take longer. And it should. That’s what makes the internet great. Because if ABC Plumbing is known for shoddy work I’d rather invest the extra 10-15 minutes to read and find out. A phone book won’t give you that. And my water valve is still turned off, the kids are at school, and I showered at work. No harm no foul.

    No POWER is needed to make phone books? Sorry that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. A printing press, packaging machine, and delivery truck all take resources.

    Again, you’re really, really leaping for justification.

  95. Why use the local yellow pages?

    To find local businesses.

    I am having a sunroom installed tomorrow. Wanna guess how I found the vendor? Yep, the Yellow Pages.

    If I need an attorney, doctor, lawn care, mom&pop pizza or whatever, I am turning to the yellow pages. Just a small 1″ add is enough to gain my business. Not advertising in the local yellow pages? Good luck getting my business.

  96. HooFoot says:

    I live in an area where the population is older and still catching up with technology. I’ve learned from experience that it is far less frustrating to look up the information in a phone book than it is to try to find it online. The online yellow pages suck, Google returns a bunch of crappy Citysearch entries, most small businesses around here don’t have websites, and if they do have a website, the information I need is outdated.

  97. valthun says:

    Since it is paid for by advertisers, why not send out subscription requests? Basically in the mail is a small return mailer that asks if you want the annual book. This way it will be delivered to the houses that want it. Less paper is used, just by asking.

  98. DantePD says:

    I don’t think I’ve actually opened a phone book since I was twelve, but I HAVE found a use for them. My wife keeps a pet rabbit, and goddamn if that rabbit dosen’t LOVE shreding a Yellow Book with her little bunny teeth. Thank you publishers, for a free bunny entertainment device.

  99. lordargent says:

    I get phone books from phone companies I’m not even a customer of.

    So I get about 3 sets of books.

    /all of them go straight to the recycle bin because I know how to use thar internets to look up numbers.

  100. mmstk101 says:

    I am 100% for being able to opt out of recieving a phone book like 5 times a year.

    However, if I had to choose between opting out of either a) recieving multiple phone books or b) being visited by local politicians campaigning for votes . . . . .

    See ya later politicians, and hello phone books!

  101. FairMarkets says:


    I was using the plumbing problem as an example. You could insert any problem you like into the situation.

    2,3 – I know quite a few people that leave their computers on 24/7 and they also do not use any power saving features like you. However, the vast majority of people actually either turn their computers off or use some form of power management. Initialization times will vary on your method of conservation.

    4,5 – Nonsense? You must have a really special computer that can read your mind like that. Not only can your computer figure out what you are looking for but it can also do advance searches for you based on that ESP knowledge. Can I get one of these computers from Best Buy?
    I am not that blessed and have a computer where I still have to move a mouse and type on a keyboard to tell it what to do.

    6 – I agree reviews are nice if they can be trusted. Many companies do not have reviews and have been in business for a long time (just not Internet savvy). Then again really crappy companies know how to post false reviews too. However, my point was really about time to search.

    “dumbest thing I’ve ever read”? You must not be keeping up with politics because I have read a lot worse. Think about all of the servers that are required to keep those web sites up and running. Private data centers are one the largest consumers of electricity and use far more resources than the printing of a book on recycled material. If everybody had your habits when it comes to computer usage (always on, no power saving modes) then we would really watch that consumption rise.

    I am sorry but finding things in paper resources is actually pretty quick. Don’t believe me? Do a test yourself, you and a friend sit on couch and pick a topic from a hat. Then you go to your computer, they go for the phone book. You might even be able to see one web site by the time your friend will be looking at many many more names, numbers and miscellaneous information.

  102. wagnerism says:

    Check this out…


    The phone book publisher didn’t know that all those directories were not delivered. The storage unit employee tipped them off.

    I’m wondering why she didn’t use it for a bonfire or try to sell the paper as bulk recycling.

  103. revmatty says:

    I don’t mind having a phone book. The problem is I get two from the phone company and two others from independent phone book companies. The ones from the phone company are the main one and a smaller ‘neighborhood’ phone book. Neighborhood apparently being any business within and hour’s drive of the city that was willing to pay for a placement. Totally worthless.

    As others have noted it’s often easier to find real services in your neighborhood via the phone book than online.

    The competing independent phone company books are pretty much garbage/

  104. revmatty says:

    On a related note (and it probably kills just as many trees over the course of a year) the free newspaper (which is 90% ads and 10% content for retired people) that gets delivered every week to every single residence in the metro area. It took us MONTHS of calling the company to get them to finally agree to stop delivering. We had to threaten to sue them for littering to get them to stop.

  105. WhirlyBird says:

    Thankfully, I live in an apartment, so I just leave the unrequested yellow litter lying in the breezeway until the apartment management sends someone to clean them up.

  106. Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen says:

    Am I the only one that thinks that instead of a phone book, it could be distibuted on a CD or DVD to copy on to your PC?

    You would still get all of the ads and listings, but with the added benefit of being able to search.

  107. e-gadgetjunkie says:

    I was so happy when our recycling company added phone books to the list of items that could be put out at the curb. Now it’s off the porch, into the bin.

  108. SHobbs says:

    Why does it have to be either or???? At YPA we know that millions of consumers use both the book and online search. They complement each other. And for small businesses looking to maximize their investment, YP in print and online is a great investment. Fact and figures are available at At the end of the day, the marketplace, not legislators, should determine which books are useful. Meanwhile, the debate needs to be informed by facts, not by personal behaviors and preferences being projected onto others.

  109. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Well what a spirited string of posts… time for my 2cents worth…

    I find it interesting that the phone book companies think so little about their product that they allow them to be dumped at the end of our driveways now… right beside the recycling bin… oddly convenient I think… Prior to this they were put placed by the front door of the house.

    This pissed me off the first time they did it. They delivered on a Friday and I was away for the weekend. I returned Sunday night to find this bright yellow “No one is home!” flag at the end of every driveway where people had been away for 2 days… I should qualify that this really pissed me off.

    Now I have mellowed and I am not quite sure what to do with the phone books that will get delivered in the next couple of months. Will they go into recycling? Will they go into the backyard chimnea? Will I throw it onto the front lawn of the phone book company (they have a local office I pass frequently)? Not sure, but it will be interesting.

    Downside of this of course is that other folks who deliver this sort of unwanted crap to my house think they can also get away with dumping it just about anywhere they feel like… for their convenience.

    By the way, I just realized the option of taking the phone book into the house and using it for its intended purpose doesn’t seem to be an option anymore.

  110. kyle4 says:

    I voted for yes because those who use the internet should be able to opt out and save the recycled paper for something else.

  111. MameDennis says:

    I used a foil-wrapped phone book as a base for a gingerbread house last Christmas. So, yeah, they’re not totally without utility.

  112. jojo319 says:

    I’m actually afraid to “opt-out” of anything anymore. I keep thinking I will wind up on yet another “list”. I’ve been trying to fight off junk mail and nothing seems to help.

  113. MeOhMy says:

    I can certainly see why some people would prefer to have a print phonebook. I can’t imagine why it’s not an opt-in or even a premium service.

  114. darkryd says:

    Phonebooks are obsolete the second they’re printed, anyways.

  115. HFC says:

    Online phone directories should be the same as the book form. Every listing should be included. Why isn’t this happening? What better way for the phone book companies to sell targeted advertising? They could still charge businesses for listings and it would cost them less than printing and delivering the books. Then they can offer an opt out of the book but keep their “circulation” high.

  116. Etoiles says:

    Consumers should absolutely be able to opt out. There are useless phone books wasted everywhere. And the residential listings are particularly worthless nowadays, as maybe half the people I know even have a land line, and of those, another half are intentionally unlisted.

    That said, DAMN was I glad for a phone book, in a major storm, with no power and no Internet access available. I think a phone book and a $10 non-cordless phone, together in a shoebox, are great to have somewhere in case of emergency.

  117. medeamama says:

    I actually like getting a phone book. To me, it’s quicker than turning on the computer, waiting for it to power up, etc., etc.

    But I only need one phone book, not the two that I usually get. The 2nd ends up in the recycle, unopened. I don’t even use the coupons because I get them online.

    What a waste. And even if the paper will decay, the plastic that it’s wrapped in, well, that never will. Yeah, I’d like to opt out.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense for most people to just have some central place to pick these things up?

  118. hellinmyeyes says:

    I honestly don’t mind ONE phone book. Sometimes, it really is more convenient to flip through the Yellow Pages or through the residential numbers when you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for or how someone’s name is spelled. I especially use the government section a lot, since their Web sites usually are poorly designed and hard to find phone numbers on.

    Our situation in Tallahassee is excessive, though. Embarq (Sprint) is pretty much the telephone magnate here. They issue phone books to their customers. Some stupid company tries to get advertising dollars by using their data to print its own phone book, the “Talking Phone Book” or some crap. Of course, that one never seems to have all the numbers. Then, AT&T makes its own phone book, “The Real Yellow Pages”. To top it off, each company gives you on average 1.5 books for each line, so you’re bound to end up with four or five phone books before it’s all over with.

    Some people never use them; I just need one, and I’m fine. There definitely needs to be an opt-out system. It’s obscene how many trees are being killed for their advertising.

  119. hellinmyeyes says:

    @Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen:

    N– no… Then you get to deal with their spamware and ads that conveniently won’t let you view the actual number until you watch a 30-second YouTubesque advert? Good idea.

  120. ekasbury says:


  121. I bet half the industries in the U.S. commit suicide when they realize that it’s supposed to be a free marked for consumers, not for them….

  122. RayDelMundo says:

    All I want is the phone book issued by the phone company..
    Not four from different companies. The extras go straight into the trash.

    I guarantee I can look up a number in a book faster than you can look it up on on the internet.

    I’d rather use the card catalog at the library too, if I could find one.

    “Phonebooks are obsolete the second they’re printed, anyways.”

    Really? Cause it’s amazing that I can pick up a 2 year old phone book and find numbers that I’m looking for.

  123. lefonceobscure says:

    I have one phone book; I use it to kill mice that get caught in my glue traps.

  124. Dillenger69 says:

    I have two phone books in my home office I use daily. They keep the ancient monitor I have hooked up to my home server at eye level. I’m not sure what year they are, but they do a great job as a monitor stand.

  125. Amiga_500 says:

    It is a waste of resources, though sometimes there are great coupons in phone books. What I hate is when they deliver phone books within a few days of Christmas, New Year or other major holiday WHEN I’M OUT OF TOWN, along with many of my neighbors! Lets just paint a sign that I’m not home and come rob my house.

  126. femmeknitzi says:

    Why not charge a fee for them? Less ads means less pages means less waste and the people who want them can get them, the people who don’t aren’t stuck with a tree-killing (and mower-killing) doorstop.

  127. dlab says:

    I always keep a single phone book in my house, and I still get 3 too many every single year.

    The problem here is that phone books are a big cash flow generator for phone companies. Letting customers opt out of delivery would mean their circulation numbers wouldn’t look as good. Which would mean less ad revenue. So sounds like it would take serious government intervention to stop the flow of thin yellow paper.

  128. m1k3g says:

    These ‘Yellow Pages’ b*stards need to be taught a lesson. I hate having crap thrown on my lawn and left there while I’m on vacation. What better way to advertise to house thieves that you’re out of town? Last Saturday I was out in the front yard when an SUV (what else???) drives by and throws the ‘local phone directory’ in my driveway. I yelled at them and they actually came back, then I made the woman get out and pick it up otherwise I was going to call the police. She started spouting ‘Yes sir, God bless you sir’ WTF??? I said just cut the religious crap and get your garbage out of my driveway. I still reported them to the police for littering.

  129. TouchMyMonkey says:

    I would like to have a phone book that covers my entire county. You see, in Oneida County, New York, we have two cities, Utica (pop. 59,000) and Rome (pop 23,000), and the phone book we get from Verizon covers one or the other, depending on where you live, but not both.

    The problem is, we don’t live in either Rome or Utica. We live more or less equidistant from the two. Nevertheless, we get only the Utica phone book, so if we want to look up a number in Rome, which we often do, we’re SOL, or at least we would be if I didn’t get the Rome phone book from work.

    Actually, it would REALLY be swell if we would get a book that covered the entire 315 area code, but that would be asking a bit much.

  130. Savage says:

    I get several delivered to my place each year and each time it goes straight into my recycling bin. What a waste.

  131. Quilt says:

    I find the phone book very helpful when cleaning up any messes I’ve created after having my fun on the internet.

  132. ideagirl says:

    When I tell people that I don’t use the phone book, they look at me like I’m a freak. I do not remember the last time I even opened a phone book. They are bulky, awkward, dirty, take up too much space in my cabinet, and slower than using the Google. Our phone books go directly from our front porch to the recycling bin. I WISH I could opt out of delivery.

  133. RhodyDave says:

    They definitely have a use and a place even in today’s electronic age. However, we should be able to decline them if desired.

    I suggest having the phone books provided by the local governments, at locations like town halls and post offices. If you want one, you know where you can get one. Simple.

  134. knightracer says:

    I live next to an apartment building with some really obnoxious kids. My driveway was littered with their phonebooks after the latest edition was delivered.

  135. Dyscord says:

    Choice is always nice, but phonebooks aren’t bad. I actually still use mine when I get it. The thing about phonebooks jamming snowblowers is funny though. At least here in PA, phonebooks are always delivered in July.

  136. alilz says:

    I think having a phone book is nice and useful.

    However, we don’t get 1 phone book, we get 4 (I think it’s up to 4) now. All different companies. There’s Embarq (which is the phone system), there’s The Talking Phone Book, there’s The Real Yellow Pages, and then I think there’s another.

    The only one that is any where near accurate is Embarq. Seriously I was at work and could only find the “fake” phone books and both of them had my doctor’s previous phone number and his address from 2 moves ago. Not to mention other wrong or missing informaiton.

    And there’s no way to opt out. They just come to you. I don’t think phone books are useless but there’s phone book overkill.

  137. razdigital says:

    Why not use them as fire starters for your fireplace?
    Just don’t get high off the ink.
    Otherwise, they should be set outside the homeless shelters during the winter when hobos are freezing to death, they can have something to burn in the barrels to keep warm.

  138. stuny says:

    Umm, if you had mentioned your business by name in your comment, you’d have a ton of free advertising!@williehorton:

  139. Jeri Dansky says:

    I sometimes use at least one of the phone books – and I run a very small ad in one. (It’s not a great source of clients, but it certainly pays for itself.) Personally, I wouldn’t choose to opt out of getting the books. (Well, I guess I’d opt out of one company’s book; I really don’t need two!)

    But I certainly think anyone who wants to opt out should be able to do so.

    I was just writing my own post on “how to stop getting those phone books” when this post came out on Consumerist; you can see my post at []

  140. billf says:

    The companies that make phonebooks make their money from advertising. By not having any metric to show how many people actually keep/use their products, they can claim that they deliver to MANY more people than if they allowed you to opt-out.

  141. Anonymous says:

    It’s funny, I actually sell advertising in the exact phonebook that is in the photo on this article, and believe it or not, people actually do use this particular book to conduct local business transactions – the internet is still too scattered in central, ma and many companies don’t have web presence whatsoever. I do, however, agree with legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of delivery. After all, that would only increase the credibility of usage/distribution statistics and provide a better overall value to our advertisers, as current advertising pricing is based on distribution and median income in the distribution area, among other factors. Also, I’ll definitely admit that usage is not where it was 10 years ago, but my company offers every one of our advertisers the ability to track calls made through their advertisements. We place unique call-forwarding numbers in their advertisements, for example, 555-1234 would appear in the advertisement, while the customer’s real telephone number is 555-4321. The 555-1234 number appears only in the printed ad in the telephone directory, and nowhere else. Each call that is made to 555-1234 is instantly forwarded to 555-4321 and a note is made of all the call details including caller id information, date, time, length of call, origination point, etc. I too, was amazed to see a pizza restaurant averaging over 250 calls per month from an advertisement that cost him well under $150/month. Surely a good investment. There’s no doubt that the industry is moving to the internet, and QUICK. Compare telephone directories year over year, most are losing 20% of their advertisers to other marketing avenues, but this simply means better results for those who continue to advertise since there are fewer choices. It’s a necessary evil. I see both sides of the argument, Our books are printed on 100% recycled paper with 100% soy based ink, and are distributed along postal routes.