The Right Course: Opt-In for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages
I 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 opt-out of receiving the yellow pages books, and our new BanThePhoneBook.org initiative promotes making the white pages book available only to consumers who opt-in for it. We understand that opt-in is likely to lower circulation much more than opt-out. Greg raised the question of whether the opt-in strategy for white pages books would “bleed over to YP” and hence also significantly lower yellow pages circulation. I do not believe that will or should happen.
After all, there are some significant differences. Perhaps more importantly, there is a viable financial model for the yellow pages that supports an entire industry. On the other hand, for the white pages books, there is no viable financial model in place. As many telcos are painfully aware, it is straight-forward to identify the financial expenses in the production and distribution of the white pages books. And in addition, there are significant environmental costs. But when one tries to tally up the economic benefits, the accounting becomes much fuzzier, and I would argue that by any calculation, one would come up far short of breakeven.
As far as consumer usefulness, the yellow pages play a useful role for consumers, as there is rich content (sometimes richer than what is available online), the listings are generally up-to-date, and the coverage of listings is generally comprehensive. On the other hand, the white pages books provide poor listing coverage (less than half the number of listings of free online alternatives such as WhitePages.com, contain limited content in each listing, and because residential listings change more often than business listings, they are often out-of-date by the time the white pages book is distributed. Additionally, the yellow pages are a proven means of local advertising for small businesses across the country. Without access to this marketing channel, a small businesses ability to attract new customers suffers, thus greatly impacting their ability to generate revenue.
We at WhitePages are passionate about building awareness of the waste created by the white pages books and providing them only on an opt-in basis, but I think it would be a mistake to draw similar conclusions for the yellow pages. That is not our intention. After 131 years, the white pages phone book is rightfully at risk, because the arguments calling for its death are so overwhelming.
Alex Algard is the founder and CEO of WhitePages.com