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Slate: Why won’t phone books die?

Slate: Why won't phone books die?

Gone forever are the days when Steve Martin in The Jerk would proclaim, “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday!” In today’s world of less-waste and more-digital, Paul Collins asks a very good question: “Why won’t phone books die?” I cannot remember the last time I actually used a phone book, or was happy to have one nearby. I can recall, however, the annoying days when you arrive at your front door to find a couple of new phone books waiting shortly before I throw them in with Recycling. From Paul Collins’ overview in Slate:

Ask anyone under 30 about phone books, though, and you might as well inquire about Victrola needles. The Yellow Pages Association claims that even young households use them when the occasion—a wedding, for instance—demands reliable listings. But printed phone books are a maturing industry, with only about six in 10 businesses and individuals still regularly relying on them. Yet even as directories hemorrhage content to the Web and to unlisted cell numbers, enough oldsters—those, say, who still recall physically dialing numbers in a rotary motion—continue using them enough to keep profits rolling in. In other words, you remaining four in 10 recipients can expect a lot more doorstops and spider-smashers in your future.

Help may be on the way. Over the past year, state legislatures in North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, and New York have considered demanding opt-outs. The Yellow Pages Association fought off the North Carolina bill, but, as phone directory analyst Charles Laughlin points out, Norway adopted opt-outs without a major dip in business. While consumers may claim to like such options, less than 7 percent of Norwegians actually got around to signing up. Opt-outs give directory publishers near-total coverage and yet plausible deniability over the paper waste generated.

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