Seattle City Council Approves Opt-Out Bill 8-1

You local city government now wants to get into regulating what you do or don’t get on your doorstep by taxing selected, designated private industry.  Seattle’s first target – Yellow Pages.

Despite the industry’s best efforts to work with the Seattle City government on using established publisher and industry association systems which allowed residents to freely opt-out (to the tune of over 15,000) of print directories, the Seattle City Council has just approved by a vote of 8 to 1 a new ordinance that has the city establish (perhaps through a third party) their own opt-out list for residents that don’t want to receive a phone book.  Should a resident still receive an unwanted book, the publisher could be fined $125 per incident. To further add more confusion to the process, publishers would have to report the number of books they distribute and pay a 14 cent-per-book “recovery fee” even as publishers acknowledged that the timing is impractical for them to provide such information.  But that’s what happens when a city legislator thinks they know how the publishing business works.

Supports gushed over the green message they think the bill sends with no regard for the impact it has on the small/midsized businesses in their area, or the list of other legal matters is causes.  For example, Maggie Stonecipher, the AVP of Print and Delivery Services for Dex One testified (again) at the hearing that “the ordinance also requires us to turn over information from consumers that have already contacted us. Under our privacy policies, it says we won’t share that information.” That argument fell on deft ears at the Council.

The council lead called it “free market legislation”.  Obviously he has no clue what a free market looks like, because it clearly isn’t one where you single out a single industry that is responsible for less than 1% of the waste stream that the greenies seemed all worried about.  I assume that this “free market” structure that the Seattle City Council wants to impose will now be enforced on the newspaper industry, the bottled beverage industry, the makers of cardboard, electronics manufactures especially PC manufactures, and so on and so on???

Immediately after the vote, which sounded like a love fest between the 8 supporting legislators just oozing over how hard they had worked on this legislation (isn’t that what they are suppose to do?) the Yellow Pages Association released this statement from Neg Norton, President of the Yellow Pages Association:

“We respect the city’s desire to reduce waste and are disappointed that our extensive efforts to work with the Council to address consumer choice in a fair and efficient way were overlooked today.

We agree that a streamlined approach to consumer choice makes the most sense, which is why Yellow Pages companies have committed to upgrading our existing site,, so consumers across the country can visit a single, centralized hub to manage the delivery of phone books. Another new site, run by the city, will undoubtedly create more waste by duplicating efforts already underway and complicate logistics for publishers working to honor delivery requests.

We have never believed it makes sense to deliver a directory to someone who doesn’t want one.  Seattle residents need not wait until the city can develop its own site to stop delivery.  Residents can visit today to find information about stopping delivery of the phone books they no longer wish to receive.

We believe the ordinance, as passed, will not hold up under legal challenge.  As an industry, we are committed to reducing the number of unwanted yellow pages directories. We must, however, ensure that our members’ rights are respected and oppose any attempts to single out the yellow pages industry with disparate regulatory and financial treatment, including discriminatory license fees and advance recovery fees not applied to competing media and non-media sources of paper. The industry also opposes any provisions that compel our members to promote a duplicative, city-run program through mandatory notices on the covers of their directories…”

Seattle residents, get your check book out.  From here, the industry’s next step is clear – the mother of all lawsuits that they will win, the cost of which your dear city will have to bear.

What a shame.  It didn’t have to be this way.  A working process was already up and running.  But that wasn’t enough for the greenies.  Someone in big business had to be punished no matter the costs or the impact…

9 responses to “Seattle City Council Approves Opt-Out Bill 8-1

  1. I once opted out of the Verizon book… but they still sent it. The poor girl cried the next day when she came back out to recover the unwanted product.

    The problem is competition. When telco owned or the duopoly was in effect things weren’t so annoying to homeowners. Now YP distribution is borderline harrassment via litter and equal to leaving trash on porches. Pretty annoying folks. The greenies can eat a carrot and chillax!

    • @Mike: I’m a little confused on what exactly is your point(s).

      You make a full stop at every stop sign right? We’re talking about a new process where sure, there are going to be a few that still receive a book even after they opt out. Given. But those processes will improve. The primary issue I am concerned about is that the YP industry has been singled out, the industry repsonsible for 1% of the land fill waste stream is being targeted. Are the other 99% of that stream also being held accountable?? Don’t think so.

      “The problem is competition”??? There are 25 attorneys in my town – do we really 25, can’t just 2 or 3 be enough? There are 10 CPA’s/bookkeepers, I’m sure we don’t need more than 2. How many different kinds of car dealers do you have in Dallas? Do we really need that many, aren’t they all the same, wouldn’t 2 or 3 be enough? And on SEO/SEM, do we really need all of these websites? Surely Google alone is enough. I think they call that capitialism. And Mike, after the “duopoly” was broken up, one of the company’s that grew from that was the one that employed you for however many years, trained you, helped develop your skills, provided you with a living, etc., and I hope, allowed you to work with small businesses to make a difference and help them market their businesses. So you too profited from that breakup, from the competition it generated, as did many people. That copmetition then yielded a lot enhancements in the products that the vast majority of people welcome into their homes each year.

  2. People do opt-out of receiving the yellow pages. These requests are simply ignored. You know this, Neg knows this and seem to use the opt-out program as more of a fake PR stunt.

    If the yellow pages actually followed their own policies, this would not be an issue and I doubt Seattle would consider this ordinance in the first place.

    • @Paul: yours is a silly, absurd, totally ignorant comment — that a publisher would ignore a request and that this a PR stunt. Even though you don’t want to hear it, the facts are that DEX has received something like 15k+ requests in the area. No doubt there will be some misses in a totally new process, especially in the first cycle after the request. Those books cost money to print and distribute. If you don’t want one, fine, we have plenty of others who do.

      The complete ignorance in your comments is that the opt-out process publishers are putting in place has actually resulted in a DROP in the number of people requesting the opt out once it has started up, and an INCREASE in those requesting more books. DEX is finding that once they have notified homes that they are skipping them due to an opt-out request, more than 5% of those are already changing their mind and now requesting a book. Opt-out has rarely gone above 1-3% in any market, anywhere in the world, even in European countries where the publisher is run by the government itself.

      If the Seattle Council had shown some patience, the process would have worked. But now I guess we’ll let the courts decide it. It’s a shame that the tax payers in Seattle will now have to pay for that bill when I’m sure there are plenty of other things the Council needs to be worried about.

  3. Sorry, don’t blame the messenger. Yellowbook has offered opt-out w/o success since at least 2008. DEX has unsuccessfully done this, too. It’s not like this is something new. So yes, this does seem like a fake PR stunt. Prove me wrong, please.

    Ignoring opt-out requests + deliveries to boarded up homes/closed businesses already cause local taxpayer money. Unfortunately, so will this apparent “mother of all lawsuits”. Big industry = big taxes I suppose.

    • Really sorry — the messenger doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about. Prove you wrong? So you believe publishers like DEX have a bunch of executives sitting around a room scheming which homes that don’t want books that they can deliver too, and then toss in a few boarded up homes and closed businesses just so they can raise their distribution numbers by .5%?? Please tell me you really don’t believe that.

      When, not if, that lawsuit is filed, the Seattle taxpayers can thank people like you for costing them money that didn’t have to be spent. Thanks a lot.

  4. This industry needs regulation. Telcos had the right to solicit business due to directory assistance updates etc. Existing relationships with SMBs is how YP companies avoided Do Not Call registry requests. Now that Data Aggregators (such as InfoUSA/Axciom) are the new 1396/Service Order requests of old, one can assume that much has changed since the telco monopoly days.

    Why can’t someone opt out and the opt out requests be respected?

    Because it costs more money for publishers who already have decreasing margins to distribute to every other home vs blanketing spam around the neighborhood.

    60% usage rural
    20-30% in urban markets

    Yet publishers continue to use saturation distribution and ignore consumers vocal requests to stop littering doorsteps.

    More books than ever too! Thank you capitalism… time for Capitalists to clean up their own mess!

    • @Mike:
      Perhaps you missed the announcement that each publisher (including your old company) and the industry association have opt-out sites now?
      So now you want the government to also get involved too? Given their track record I think you’d be more than disappointed.

      Would you be surprised to hear that the council person who started this whole thing is already preparing for his run for higher office? And the one in San Fran raising hell about phone books has made no secret of his desire to run for Mayor. Guess you haven’t figured out how these guys are playing you yet, have you?

  5. Pingback: Judgement Day for City of Seattle Opt-out Folly | YP Talk - The Voice of the Yellow Pages Industry

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