Remember the White Pages?

NSW Telphone Directory_March 1944_042

NSW Telphone Directory_March 1944_042 (Photo credit: MargaretBee)

Earlier this year the Virginia State Corporation Commission granted an interim waiver for Verizon to be able to stop distributing residential white pages. This makes Virginia one of the last states to do this. This waiver came with the same kinds of requirements that we’ve seen in other states. Verizon must make sure that the information that was available in the white pages is available on its website and on the website of SuperMedia. Consumers who still want the white pages must be able to order them either in paper of CD format.

Most of the states have allowed the larger LECs like Verizon and AT&T to stop delivering white page directories with the same sorts of caveats. AT&T has reported that in all of the states where they have been able to get out of the white page business that only about 2% of customers still ask for a paper copy of the books. All of the phone companies are still publishing business white pages and there they report there is good demand for those listings.

The drive to ban the white pages was driven by both the phone companies and by consumer groups. Thinking of the big push to ban the white pages made me remember this funny YouTube video from 2008:

We certainly are only a few years away from a time when white pages will be a memory shared only by us old timers. Back in 2008 there was a Harris poll that showed that only 11% of households had any interest in the white pages in paper or even on-line format. One has to imagine that the growth of cell phones since then has to have nearly eliminated that requirement since our cell phones now act as our personal directories of people we want to remember.

Consumer groups have now turned their attention to the yellow pages. Since the yellow page industry makes a huge profit the telcos don’t agree with any push to ban yellow pages. The Local Search Association (formerly the Yellow page Association) is the national trade group representing the publishers of yellow pages. It has created a system in most places where customers can opt-out from receiving yellow pages. Consumers can go to https://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/ and can opt out of yellow pages for three years at a time.

Unless a telco seeks permission from the state commission to get out of the white page business or else shares white pages with a larger LEC it is still required to publish the white pages. I still have a lot of clients that publish their own directories that include residential white pages. But most of these directories are not the giant doorstops that are published in metropolitan areas. Instead they are small local books that include the white and yellow pages combined and are mostly still well-received by customers.

A lot of the yellow-page business has moved on-line and the industry is now embroiled in the same kinds of issues that affect other companies that live on advertising like Google. A big current push this year is for Do Not Track legislation that would allow consumers the ability to opt-out of being tracked by web advertisers. One thing about the yellow pages was that it didn’t track who you were and what you searched for.