An Open Letter to Everyone Involved with the Phone Book

To: Everyone Involved with Any Aspect of the Telephone Book:

If you have anything to do with any aspect of the phone book, whether you’re in ad sales, or layout design, or you sell paper to the  Yellow Pages, or you’re a secretary in the Dex home office, or you deliver the phone book to people’s homes, I have one thing to say to you: “Go fuck yourself and die, you fucking dickbag.”

There was a time when the Yellow Pages was a useful thing, a resource even.  Not only was it a useful collection of numbers and locations for businesses, it was free.  But then in the 1990’s, something called the Internet began to show up in people’s homes.  By the early 2000’s, the Internet was more or less everywhere.   If you needed to find a florist or a local lawyer or any other business in your or anyone else’s town, all you had to do was type it into a search engine and there it was, at your fingertips, so to speak.   Instead of being a resource, the phone book became an eight-pound piece of litter left on your doorstep by a meth addict.    Somehow, a decade later, the phone book survives.  How can it be that this bundle of dead trees, of use to virtually no one, continues to show up on your front step two or three times a year?  Why would companies continue to produce and deliver this archaic item at great cost, when no one wants or uses it any more?

Simple.  The Yellow Pages is a fucking scam.  It’s a scam that works in two stages. Stage One is the Vaguely Threatening Mail Notification.  Stage One works like this: say you own or operate a small business.   One day, you’re going through your mail and you find what appears to be a notification from whoever distributes the Yellow Pages in your area– Dex, Yellow Pages, etc.  This notice says that if you don’t send them X amount of money, your phone number will not appear in the Yellow Pages.  Except that’s not what it really says; what it really says is that if you don’t send them that money, your advertisement will not appear in the Yellow Pages.

This is where they implement Phase Two, Lie to Scoop Up Advertising Dollars.  Included with the Phase One faux notification is a a promise that your ad will reach the so many million people who get the Yellow Pages every year.  The easiest way to think about this portion of the scam is to consider the fact that Parade is considered the most read magazine in the United States.   Since you are currently reading a web page on the Internet, you may not even be aware of Parade magazine.   In short, it is 10-20 pages of sub-USA Today-level, Readers Digest-rejected pabulum printed on extremely cheap paper and hidden in with the ads in the Sunday newspaper.  Chances are that most people that get counted as “readers” of Parade magazine don’t even realize that it’s not just another Sunday advertisement.   It’s the same with the Yellow Pages: it gets dropped at your door, you carry it to the alley and toss it in the recycling; congratulations, you are now a Yellow Pages reader.

This brings us to what is perhaps the most odious part of the Yellow Pages: there’s no way to stop this shit from showing up at your door. The way it works is that Dex (or whoever) pays meth addicts, stoners, illegal aliens, and other vagrants to wander through your neighborhood and drop this crap on your porch.   And they pay them by the book delivered, so their motivation is to leave this trash at your house no matter what.   I’ve caught these delivery men a couple of times trying to leave a phone book on my stoop and have been met with total incomprehension (“You no want?”) and outright hostility (instead of leaving it on my porch, he tossed it in a snowbank in my yard).   So dedicated is the phone book industry to leaving their trash at your house that the city of Seattle recently had to fight an extended court battle just to give their residents the right to OPT OUT of receiving a phone book.   That’s right, phone book companies and their lobbying arm, the Local Search Association (I’d like to hope there’s a special place in hell reserved for these guys), think that it’s their legal right to dump this trash at your house, even if you’ve specifically said you don’t want it.  

phone books where they belong

Phone books where they belong

The tide may be turning, though. Not only did Seattle win its legal battle, but San Francisco is on the verge of passing a city ordinance that says phone books can  be delivered only by request and must be delivered to a person.  I’m going to urge my City Councilwoman to pass a similar ordinance here in Denver.  Right after I fish a phone book out of a snowbank.


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