Yellow Pages Unveils National Opt-Out Site, Responds to Paper Book Critics (Neg Norton Interview)
Neg Norton is president of the Yellow Pages Association, a group that's taken some hits on TreeHugger for pushing paper phone books. Today, his association is rolling out a new, national opt-out Internet site, where people will be able to end delivery of paper phone books to their doorsteps. If you don't want them, they won't be delivered ... for at least a few years. Norton sat down with Treehugger to talk about the launch of yellowpagesoptout.com, an improvement on an older model, which required people to contact individual publishers for opting out of paper directories. TH: Tell me, why did the Yellow Pages industry decide to launch this upgraded opt-out site?
NEG NORTON: We're trying to do the right thing here, by our customers, and environmentalists and everybody. We think this site is a really positive step toward that ...
There are 158 domestic publishers, and all of them are on the site.
TH: But why did you decide to create a clearinghouse for opting out of phone books?
NN: It doesn't make any sense for us to deliver phone books to people who don't want them. We don't want to irritate consumers, and it creates no value for our customers, either.
With this site, you go in, (enter a ZIP Code) and you can easily identify, with very clear instructions, how to navigate through the site. The consumer gets a transcript of what they've transacted, and information that impacts publishers goes to them nightly ... If we do this right, we have less product in the market, but our publishers save on printing and distribution, with no diminishment to our clients. All it does is save us a little bit of money and keep the environmental a little healthier.
TH: Were there any concerns from publishers that this would hurt their business, diminish their livelihoods?
NN: Not really. The way we create value is when somebody picks up a directory and goes through the categories. We're not a circulation-based media, so we're not making any money by sending phone books out there. The only way we create value is when somebody uses it.
TH: Why not make your site an opt-in site?
NN: We get that question pretty frequently. I think the short answer there is our data shows that about 75 percent of adults use print yellow pages. The most practical way to address the problem, from our perspective, is to let the majority of people who use the phone books keeping getting them and the minority of people can opt out. That's the most practical way.
TH: I've seen data on the other side, that most people don't use printed phone books. Your data shows that 75 percent do?
NN: We do a lot of surveys. We use Burke Marketing. They do work for Hewlett-Packard and Chevron. We take a representative sample of different markets across the country. We track use of our print directories. We often put in special phone numbers, only in yellow pages, that can prove to yellow page advertisers that the directories are being used. So we've got some pretty accurate ways of measuring usage.
TH: What kind of sign-up response do you expect?
NN: We don't have any forecast data, so it's hard to predict ... Anecdotally, we hear that less than 1 percent of households have out opted out (using the old, contact-the-publishers site). So it's a very small number. I would expect that to increase.
TH: Now this upgraded site will cover business yellow pages and white page residential listings?
NN: Yes. They'll all be in there.
TH: Do you think paper telephone books will become a relic in 2011 or years to come?
NN: We're not seeing usage drop precipitously. Certainly, we are seeing drops, and consumers are getting information in lots of different places. We're not seeing the usage fall down quickly.
I think the reason for that is, most people keep the phone books in their kitchen drawer. You can open it up to the category you're looking for, you can very easily scan the local business that offers that product or service. Sometimes you can't do that as easily online.
TH: Does this opt-out last forever, or do people have to go back and update it after a certain period of time?
NN: We, the association, can't dictate policy publisher-by-publisher. We're recommending to all participants on the site, a three-year opt out ... if you opt out of your address, that would stay for three years, unless you move. Then, chances are the person who moves in would have to get the directory or opt out. A lot of use of directories occurs after a move ... We're suggesting at least a three-year opt out and some publishers are taking it further than that.
TH: So that's the scoop. The site again, is www.yellowpagesoptout.com. Who plans to opt out, and why? Who plans to keep getting paper directories, and ditto?
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