Opt-Out and the Directory Dilemma

Yesterday the Yellow Pages Association announced the launch of “www.yellowpagesoptout.com” that seeks to “help consumers choose which print directories they want delivered to their door steps.” According to the press release:

Yellowpagesoptout.com aggregates delivery information for Yellow Pages publishers in one place, making consumer choice simple, secure and effective. Users type in their zip code and receive a list of local publishers with the appropriate steps to stop delivery or adjust the number of directory products they receive.

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This initiative, together with the YPA’s “Yellow Is Green” efforts are probably now necessary to respond to and preempt criticism from different groups and consumer advocates about the environmental impact of printing directories when the Internet appears such a viable alternative. In addition, they help prevent legislative action from gaining momentum around compelling an “opt in” policy to receive print yellow pages. However, opt-out may inevitably lead to opt-in . . .

Right now there’s a movement afoot to make delivery of white pages opt-in. This is being pushed by the directory publishers themselves in large part. Unlike in other parts of the world where white pages generate ad revenue, in the US it’s a pure cost center. Hence the agreement to reduce white pages’ publication and delivery. 

Along those lines, yesterday I heard a piece on NPR triggered in part by a WhitePages.com survey:

WhitePages today unveiled the results of a survey of nearly 1,000 US adults that finds 81 percent of consumers are willing to embrace “opt-in” programs to receive the white pages phone book to help save the environment and tax dollars. According to WhitePages, the largest and most trusted online and mobile directory, if every US household stopped receiving the white pages phone book, millions of trees and up to $17 million in taxpayer funded recycling fees would be saved every year. “Opt-in” is defined as receiving a white pages phone book only if you request one.

WhitePages.com has also launched a site called “Ban the Phone Book,” which seeks to educate people about the environmental impact of printing directories. 

Did you know that up to 5 million trees are cut down each year to create the white pages phone book and that taxpayers are spending $17 million each year to have these books recycled? Even more surprising is that almost 75% of consumers are completely unaware of the environmental and financial impact in printing, delivering and recycling these books. 

The danger for the industry in actively promoting an “opt-in” strategy for print WP is that it may quickly bleed over into print YP. After all the industry is promoting “opt-out” for YP, why shouldn’t it simply move to opt-in, given the environmental impact arguments apply equally to YP as well. There’s no distinction between WP and YP from a logical perspective. The distinction in internal to the industry: cost center vs. cash cow. 

The “book” as in “Ban the Book” will equally extend to YP in the popular mind. So, as you can see, the combination of all these initiatives will put increasing pressure on print YP to go from opt-out to opt-in. If that happens, it would accelerate the revenue losses that print YP is currently seeing.

6 Responses to “Opt-Out and the Directory Dilemma”

  1. Gene Daly Says:

    Agree on your point about the “opt-in” spillover into PYP. Will be interesting to see if the “opt-out” initiative will spur a more vocal demand for audited circulation… would seem like a logical question a large (national) advertiser would ask as the audience they’re paying to reach is now able to decline receiving a directory.

  2. Chris Silver Smith Says:

    I think you’re dead-right that if YP moves to opt-in, it will accelerate print revenue losses. Print directories have historically been treated quite similarly to magazines/newspapers by media purchasing agencies, so there’s been some justification of print ad costs based upon independently-assessed circulation figures. Those circulation figures would undoubtedly drop terribly sharply with opt-in.

    It has been interesting to watch the YP industry move from strenuous resistance of change from blanket distribution efforts to publicly embracing recycling and opt-out initiatives. However, there is still some perspective some of these opt-out efforts are window-dressing for some companies in some markets as they’ve encountered difficulties in kerbing blanket-dropoffs by the third-party companies through which they often outsource the distribution work.

    The industry-lead efforts to provide consumers with opt-out options are likely to prove to be a delaying factor, temporarily staving off anti-blanket-distribution legislation until companies can wean off of print. Mergers of print directory companies will make sense in this respect, because two directories distributing in a single market could simultaneously cut costs and reduce consumer resistance from having multiple directories porch-dropped. To me, it appears that the market forces such as resistance to print and reduction in print revenues will force mergers — and those companies which merger earlier could gain greater marketshare advantage.

  3. Guest Post: Alex Algard, CEO WhitePages.com « Screenwerk Says:

    […] was pleased to read Greg Sterling’s recent post on the Opt-Out and the Directory Dilemma. After all, we are supportive of the YPA’s efforts to raise awareness among consumers on how to […]

  4. Print YP Will Eventually Be ‘Opt-In’ « Screenwerk Says:

    […] likely view white pages and yellow pages print directories in a very similar way. As I’ve argued in the past, pushing opt-in white pages means that relatively soon consumer, environmental groups and […]

  5. realidealist Says:

    I’ve been reading a bit about opt-in and opt-out and stumbled across this term “permission marketing” which, though it applies to email marketing, seems useful:

    “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

    It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.”

    I think this is a valuable concept for advertisers (not for publishers, I understand) — with a more limited circulation you end up spending less (hopefully!), plus your response rate is likely to increase.

    So I’m wondering, what would it take for publishers/distributors to give people a choice (i.e. a mail notice asking whether a household wants to receive the next YP book, with a no-response defaulting to an opt-out)?

  6. Print YP Will Eventually Be 'Opt-In' Says:

    […] likely view white pages and yellow pages print directories in a very similar way. As I’ve argued in the past, pushing opt-in white pages means that relatively soon consumer, environmental groups and […]

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