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No More Phone Books? Really?!

By September 21, 2009 2 Comments

Here’s a story you may have missed over the summer: in July, the State of Missouri’s Public Service Commission granted AT&T’s request that it no longer be required to distribute the white pages in either Kansas City or St. Louis. They’ll still distribute the yellow pages and white page government listings to each house. But for a copy of the white pages, you’d best remember to specifically ask AT&T to send you one (they’ll provide it for free), or you’ll be out of luck.

In earlier testing outside of Missouri, AT&T said that less than 2% of all residential customers requested hard-copy white pages. Amazing. (I suspect that far more than 2% missed having them, but only 2% thought to request them.) It’s a good financial deal for AT&T. The savings realized in reduced printing costs will roll into AT&T’s pockets. Plus, if you have no phone book or Internet access and need a number, what are you to do? You’re likely to call AT&T directory assistance where they’ll give you the number (for a fee, of course – that stopped being free long ago). Ka-ching.

I don’t mean to be negative toward AT&T.  They’re looking out for their corporate interests.  In fact, there are plenty of positives to this as well… fewer unused books means less waste, for example.  And you know, between unlisted numbers and people whose only phone is a cell phone, I never really expect to find the number I need when I go to the white pages anyway.

The big story here isn’t whether the Public Service Commission should have okayed this request.  The real news is that it happened at all. Who’d have imagined a time when phone companies wouldn’t distribute phone books?

Still, if you’re a phone book fan, never fear.  The yellow pages will not disappear soon. Even while yellow page use plummets, the phone companies will keep selling ad spaces in them, because they have no convincing argument for spending that money with them for an online yellow pages.  Not when most consumers, when looking for a local product or service, head straight to Google (or Bing, perhaps – but definitely not to an online yellow pages) for the information they seek.

Maybe we should start saving up our white pages and yellow pages both. In a few years, we can sell them (still in “mint condition”) to collectors on eBay!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Mike says:

    Chris,

    This was an interesting piece. Much of it, such as the information regarding AT&T, is 100% accurate. A larger percentage of people DO favor Google over an internet yellow page site. However, I will make one point. I don’t think the yellow pages are “hanging around” because clever salespeople are “duping” customers into spending money in the yellow pages becuase it’s a fun thing to do. Business owners are more savvy today than ever before – and careful with their money. Don’t believe the hype that yellow page usage is plummeting faster than a meteor headed for an Arizona desert. You’re giving the salesfolk too much credit – and too little credit to the oldest search engine around. Yes, that would be the yellow pages.

  • Chris Young says:

    Mike, I appreciate your comments, and you make a very good point. There is, in fact, still a value to advertising in Yellow Pages, and the fact remains that the whole world (or even my entire neighborhood, likely) isn’t wired.

    Still, projecting forward a few years, I can’t help but believe that the importance of search engine and directory placement will continue to rise, just as the importance of Yellow Page placement falls.

    Thanks again for the feedback!

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