Number's Up For Phone Books - The End Of A Great Marketing Tool?


What's big and white, unwelcome in your home and destined for extinction?

No, not the polar bear - but the good ol' White Pages.

A recent survey by American market research organization Harris Interactive suggests that those old, weighty phone books are well and truly on their way out. According to the results of this survey, only 3 out of every 10 American adults ever consider reaching for the dated paper tome these days. It seems that more and more people search for the phone number of their local hair salon, pizza delivery company or real estate professional online. No big surprise there.

phone_books_240But in less urban regions, where smaller local businesses might not necessarily have, or feel the need to have a website, the old format phone books remain an essential tool in their modest marketing plans. Away from the larger conurbations, local White Page directories still lumber on like the last weary mammoths, uncertain of their place in the scheme of things.

But the tide is starting to turn and an ever increasing clarion cry is heralding the ultimate demise of these wood-gobbling leviathans that land unceremoniously, and often unwelcome at our doors. In many areas of the US, opt-out systems are being introduced with great success. These are designed to ensure that only those who actually require a physical phone book will receive one, or two, or three, depending on the number of competing operators in the neighborhood.

However, in some states this is proving more difficult than logic would seem to suggest. Apparently, communications giant Verizon recently voiced its intentions to stop delivering White Pages in a number of areas. Customers could request a copy of course, but the blanket distribution of unwanted directories was to be phased out in 12 states, saving a massive 17,000 tons of paper. This was generally seen as a welcome development, except in Maryland where Verizon's request was denied. The State's Public Service Commission insisted on seeing proof to support the company's claims that people were using alternative methods to finding telephone numbers. So, the statistics and overwhelming evidence just wasn't enough?

Yellow Pages too have been edging stealthily toward a greater online presence for several years, as in-print revenues continue to diminish. But they still print millions of the books, doomed to be used as monitor risers and door stops. And they've not taken kindly to opt-out schemes, even suing the city of Seattle following its recent declaration that unwanted directories will be classed as litter, and the distributors fined accordingly.

I've certainly noticed that many real estate agents and brokers who used to dominate the phone books with full page ads, along with auto dealers, fast-food takeaways and carpet wholesalers, are increasingly absent from this once-essential advertising platform. It looks like the days of flicking through these encyclopedic volumes are over, as we trust our searches to the convenience of our laptops and mobile devices. And we get to feel good too, knowing that we're saving up to 5 million trees a year.

Looks like the advertising geniuses will have to give one old slogan a much-needed update. How does 'Let your fingers do the typing' sound?

Pic from Flickr user arronparecki


Enjoy this post? Why not share with friends or add a comment of your own?


These companies need to have an opt-in option when handing out phone books anymore. In order for them to hand them out, the household or business has to request them. They are a waste of paper!

With the internet, Google, and local pages, the phone book is useless! I stopped advertising in them over 8 years ago. :) Great article!

Share your thoughts…