Tag Archives: Seattle City Council

Updated Industry Opt-out Site Rolled Out

As they have been promising for months now, the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) and the Association of Directory Publishers (ADP) today launched an upgraded website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com that allows consumers nationwide to easily manage the delivery of their phone directories (Official press release).  Consumers can now go to a single location to select which phone directories they receive, or to stop directory delivery altogether.

I ran a search for the area where we use to live in North Carolina and the system smartly displayed all of the books we use to get in the area:

When the original site was launched in 2009, the site only provided information on individual publishers that consumers needed to contact individually.  The upgraded and redesigned interface increases consumer convenience and reduces confusion about the options available to manage phone book delivery by eliminating the need to contact multiple publishers.

In the press release Neg Norton, president of YPA notes that “…our industry is taking a giant leap forward today by launching a clearinghouse site for consumers to control the delivery of directories.  The site, supported by directory publishers across the country, illustrates our ongoing commitment to not delivering a directory to someone who doesn’t want one.”

Larry Angove, president and CEO, Association of Directory Publishers added that “…we continue to believe, and research supports, that directories remain an important tool for consumers searching for local information.  That said, we believe it is equally important to provide a simple solution for consumers who only want a certain directory or feel they can do without a directory.”

Those who have been fighting the distribution of these directories have ignored publishers ongoing position that if someone didn’t want a phonebook, they shouldn’t have to get one.  The associations should be congratulated on this unique collaboration effort among large and small publishers across the country that shows a commitment to our promise to reducing unwanted directories.  158 publishers are currently in the site database.

“Consumers continue turning to print Yellow Pages, both to help find local businesses, driving valuable new leads for our advertisers, and also to quickly access community and government information,” said Norton. “We believe print remains a central component of our industry’s growing portfolio, which today includes digital and mobile platforms. We’re constantly working to transform and innovate so that we can continue supporting local businesses and consumers in the most environmentally friendly way.”

Growing call tracking levels support industry research showing that over 75% of U.S. adults use print Yellow Pages to find local businesses each and every year.  Hence, advertisers are still realizing a return on the investment for local directory advertising of at least $14 for every $1 spent.

Without a doubt this updated effort improves the opt-out process drastically. But ultimately some critics will still not be happy. For example, look at this lead paragraph from the San Francisco Examiner:

In a tech-savvy and environmentally aware region like the Bay Area, which is home to online directories such as Yelp and Google Local, the arrival of a new Yellow Pages book can seem like a blast from the past.

Didn’t realize that class warfare was now linked to the distribution of yellow page directories, but hey, we are talking about San Francisco.  It’s just a shame the industry would have to lower any of its standards to appease such a small bunch of snobs. But the Examiner article did at least correctly contain this item:

And yet, for all of the griping by  people who wish they could opt out of receiving a phone book, thousands of small businesses in San Francisco continue to depend on their Yellow Pages advertising, Amy Healy said. <YPA Staff>

“It’s not sexy,” she said. “But it works for them.”

Has, still is, and will continue to be the best advertising media for most small – midsized businesses.  No one will disagree that consumers today find information in all sorts of ways and usually many check multiple sources when searching for information about products or services.  But we also know that consumers are still turning to those print Yellow Pages, and will continue to for years to come.

And of course the city of Seattle still doesn’t get it.  Despite facing a lawsuit from the industry, the Seattle City Council on Monday voted to stick with a 14-cent fee it plans to charge Yellow Pages distributors for every book that goes to Seattle residents.  I guess the industry should be somewhat pleased that the city backed away from a $148 tonnage fee it approved in October to help pay the cost of recycling the advertising books.  But despite today’s op-out site launch announcement, the Council still hasn’t dropped its October action to create a registry for people who want to opt out of receiving Yellow Pages-type phone books.

It will be interesting to see how many people actually ask to opt-out of their directory deliveries.  After most publishers initiated their own opt-out programs, YPA started their initial site, and numerous paper atheists began blogging campaigns to get people to opt-out, publishers have reported a significant drop off in the numbers of people requesting opt-out over the past months to almost a trickle.  Those publishers that have discussed opt-out levels have consistently indicated that less than 5% do.

Environmental: Seattle Saga Continues – See You in Court

As we fully expected and noted in our recent blog, the City of Seattle’s new phone book ordinance which would implement new taxes and additional opt-out requirements on printed directories, has been challenged in a suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by Dex One, SuperMedia, and the Yellow Pages Association (YPA).

The complaint, filed by Seattle-based Perkins Coie, LLP, asserts that the ordinance, passed last month:

  • violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press, from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate, and from assessing fees for the privilege of publishing.
  • unlawfully interferes with interstate commerce and
  • violates the privacy rights of Seattle residents.

In a press release from YPA, President Neg Norton noted that:

“We agree that residents should have a choice of whether they receive a Yellow Pages directory, but the Seattle City Council has passed a law that violates the most basic freedom in the United States.  Even as we oppose the ordinance in court, we are moving forward with plans to provide a first-class, national consumer choice website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com. This website will easily enable consumers to opt-out of unwanted phonebooks and will add no costs to taxpayers anywhere – in Seattle or across the country.”

The Seattle ordinance clearly singles out the Yellow Pages industry with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media (or any other waste stream component) including discriminatory license fees for the right to publish and unprecedented “advance recovery fees” that previously have been limited to toxic or hard-to-recycle materials. The ordinance imposes obligatory cover language dictated by the city government and also mandates that publishers turn over confidential/private information from consumers to the City of Seattle.

Legislators seemed uninterested that the industry’s consumer choice site, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, will accomplish on a nationwide basis what Seattle now is trying to build on its own, with zero investment from the city and without the free speech concerns that the law currently presents.

“Considering the value to businesses and consumers that directories bring, and the admission by the ordinance’s lead sponsor that Yellow Pages are a ‘drop in the bucket’ of the city’s collection process, one has to wonder if the city’s intention is to impose similar free speech restrictions on other media in the future,” said Larry Angove, president of the Association of Directory Publishers (ADP), in support of the industry’s effort.

ADP joined YPA in commenting in the release noting several ways they believe the industry’s cohesive, national approach to consumer choice is better for cities in a number of ways:

  • No burden to cities, taxpayers, or city government staff: Industry assumes all costs and staffing associated with development, maintenance and promotion of www.yellowpagesoptout.com.
  • Greater awareness: One official industry site can be promoted which will result in greater awareness for consumers across the country.
  • Integration with publishers’ technology systems: The website will work seamlessly with the publishers’ systems to ensure requests are properly recorded.  This would be a nearly impossible task for any third-party who has no knowledge or understanding of the industry
  • Library of directory covers provide better clarity of choice for the user: The website will include visuals that will make it easier for residents to identify the directories they wish to keep or stop.
  • Protected personal information: Residents using http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com can be confident that their personal information will only be shared with publishers and not sold/used by any third parties for any reason.

While they haven’t made a big deal out of it before, industry publishers have made significant investments in sustainable practices since launching an updated industry wide Environmental Guidelines in 2007. Among the successes are:

  • Use of paper that contains recycled content and fiber derived from lumber byproducts (woodchips) – making it unnecessary to use new trees to produce Yellow Pages.
  • A 29% reduction in the use of directory paper since 2006, as a result of advanced pagination systems and programs to reduce the number and size of directories.
  • n  Use of soy-based inks and non-toxic dyes that pose little threat to soil or groundwater supplies and adhesives in the binding process that are eco-friendly and non-toxic.
  • Launch of the consumer choice programs (www.yellowpagesoptout.com) to give consumers a choice to reduce or stop directory delivery.

As we noted in the first blog, this really isn’t an environmental move by the City of Seattle.  Instead, it has become a clear attempt at cost shift and a political stepping stone for some Council members.

And now, it’s going to cost local residents to defend the frivolous actions of the Council.

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, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, 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 www.yellowpagesoptout.com 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…