Will the Yellow Pages — the once indispensable to have and indispensable to advertise in powerhouse — soon be outlawed in San Francisco, a victim of the same technology revolution that short-circuited another onetime mainstay of American life, the pay telephone? It sounds that way:
San Francisco would become the first city in the nation to ban the unsolicited distribution of the Yellow Pages under legislation to be formally introduced today by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.
The thick volumes, dropped off at nearly every home and office in the city, are becoming increasingly obsolete in the Internet age, Chiu says, and often end up unopened in the recycling bin.
His office estimates that more than 1.5 million Yellow Pages phone books are distributed in San Francisco every year.
“If we’re serious about the environment, it’s time we recognize that phone books are a 20th century tool that doesn’t meet the business or environmental needs of the 21st century,” said Chiu.
A trade group said Monday that although it shares some of Chiu’s goals, it will consider a legal challenge if his legislation is approved as is.
Seattle first introduced an “opt-out” provision so consumers can halt unsolicited phone book deliveries.
But the San Francisco proposal – touted as the newest green initiative from the city that banned plastic bags – would go much further.
I’ve noticed the decline of the Yellow Pages in several areas:
1. You now see many hotels that don’t even bother to keep them in rooms. Many guests use laptops in hotels with WiFi and get their info online.
2. My worst advertising experience in my other non-blogging incarnation was in the Yellow Pages where tepid response morphed into no response…and I was not alone in noting how more and more people were turning to the Internet and not using the Yellow Pages. Beautiful ads are useless if they’re not seen.
3. Big stacks of books gathering dust when left at supermarkets where these directories used to go fast.
4. Yellow Pages books cluttering a dumpster way before the books’ expiration date.
The Yellow Pages are likely to be around for a while but like newspapers they have been battered by the Internet, the growth of cell phones and a generational shift. How many young people do YOU know who’d even think about going to the Yellow Pages to find a number?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.