Guest Post: Alex Algard, CEO WhitePages.com

Picture 3The 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content in each listing, and because residential listings change more often than business listings, they are often out-of-date by the time the white pages book is distributed.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

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Alex Algard is the founder and CEO of WhitePages.com

10 Responses to “Guest Post: Alex Algard, CEO WhitePages.com”

  1. troy Says:

    I’m fairly sure that most people would not know the difference between white and yellowpages, it’s just the phonebook. I think this is a not so subtle way for whitepages.com to attack the yellowpages book.

    • Daniel Lonword Says:

      Troy, you’re out of your element. Why would whitepages.com attack the yellowpages. they aren’t in the same industry, they do entirely different things. whitepages is for looking up a person’s contact information. yellowpages is for business information.

      they aren’t even attempting to do the same stuff. so to insult the author is just unnecessary.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    I agree that the distinctions may not be as clearly drawn in the public mind vs. the thinking of industry insiders.

  3. Stever Says:

    In some locations the white pages and yellow pages are one in the same. Smaller cities have one book. First half are white pages of basic phone listings, second half of same book are yellow pages business listings.

    Or perhaps this is more of a Canadian occurrence where we have a single YP monopoly, for most part, and local telcos publish one book in co-production with YP.

    Regardless, like previously mentioned, much of public would likely not make the distinction between them.

  4. Karim Meghji Says:

    With all due respect, the point that there is a “financial model supporting an industry” with respect to Yellow Pages is not a good enough argument given the topic at hand; consumer choice. Sure, the folks that depend on that financial model would prefer to control the ramp down (hence the pre-emptive opt-out campaign), thereby giving them control of the runway they’ll need to figure out how to backfill lost revenue. But, I have to agree with the prior comment – it’s the phonebook people! Consumers aren’t distinguishing based on business model – but environmental model. And I’ll venture a guess that yellow and white paper have similar environmental impacts on the birds and the trees🙂

    Given the advent of better online options – sporting vastly improved consumer experiences, with rich, personalized AND dynamic content coupled with increasingly cost effective and flexible lead generation models for local businesses – I see the transition on the YP front as inevitable given consumer behavior and, in fact, a necessity given the impact on the environment and the impact on the economics of small business.

  5. Stever Says:

    Agree with Karim, “financial model supporting an industry” not a valid argument as far as the consumers are concerned. Besides that, the financial model is in deep deep trouble as users switch to the web to find local businesses. In fact that financial model (print YP) will likely become a dead end at some point. The industry it supports, that part which cannot make the shift to the web side of YP, will disappear.

  6. WhitePages.com CEO: White Pages Opt-In Shouldn’t Apply to Yellow Pages « Yellow Pages Association Blog Says:

    […] to ask if the same applied to Yellow Pages. WhitePages.com CEO Alex Algard responded quickly with a guest post on Greg Sterling’s blog that clarifies his thinking on the […]

  7. Alex Algard Says:

    All I was saying was that the issues around the white pages and yellow pages books are completely different. Nobody wants the white pages around, including its producers and recipients. All you end up with is a lot of economic and environmental waste. The only thing keeping the white pages books on life support are some legacy regulations at the local public utility commission level, which have been surprisingly slow to be undone. On the other hand, in the yellow pages space there are freely acting vendors (publishers) and customers (advertisers) supporting the print books. They are not forcefully kept in existence due to outdated legacy regulations. Our company is not in the YP industry and I do not understand all the nuances of it, but clearly, the incentives of the key constitutents for the yellow pages industry are very different compared to the white pages space: YP publishers, small business advertisers, and consumers.

  8. Questioning the "Opt-In for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages" concept | Net Magellan Says:

    […] for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages” concept Greg Sterling’s blog has a guest post by Alex Algard, CEO of whitepages.com, which begins with a thought-provoking statement: The Right Course: Opt-In […]

  9. tom_thinks Says:

    Alex, while I agree with you that practically nobody wants the white pages around, I really have to strongly disagree with you that the recipient of the yellow pages wants and or needs it. In my area for instance, the yellow pages are distributed by a group of guys running along side a van or truck. They do not care if you opt in or opt out or check any list whatsoever when throwing a plastic bag full of paper on your doorstep. Sometimes they will throw several. And often several companies will chuck out competing versions.
    I do understand that there is a financial motive for the producers of the yellow pages, and I also understand that you do not wish to pick a fight with other businesses, only the ones that compete with your own. However, I “fanned” your FaceBook page because I wanted to “BanthePhoneBook” not just cut out a third of it. I feel that the major thrust of your campaign is deceptive and you have only to look at the comments on your fan page to realize that most of your supporters in fact desire to ban the entire phone book or create an opt in system for it.

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