Phone Books
Phone Books

The Problem

Phone books used to be an indispensable resource, connecting us with local businesses and with each other. But online search engines and digital directories have overwhelmingly replaced them. The phone book industry itself has expanded online services – yet continues to deliver printed directories to every household, whether we want them or not.

Why all the waste? Because phone book publishers still profit from the ad revenue – charging local businesses by the number of directories distributed, not how many people actually use them.

The Solution

PSI advocates for robust opt-out and opt-in systems that ensure that phone books are only delivered to people who want them. At the behest of PSI and our government members in 2007, the industry developed a national opt-out system.

When the industry’s efforts fell short, we also helped Seattle and San Francisco craft and pass the first opt-out and opt-in ordinances to stop unwanted phone book delivery. But phone book publishers sued the cities. After a vicious legal battle, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that phone books are protected under free speech. The ruling effectively blocked all legislation on phone books in the U.S.

Since its victory in the courts, the phone book industry has dragged its feet on reducing unwanted phone book deliveries. Unsurprisingly, the opt-out system is not well advertised.

That’s why PSI created the Opt-Out Outreach Toolkit to help governments, nonprofits, and citizens spread the word about opt-out. Even though the system isn’t perfect, every opt-out drives home the message to phone book publishers: most of us no longer want this obsolete product.

Today, more than 70% of Americans never use their phone books. Very few people (particularly the elderly) still use them. Meanwhile, virgin paper production for U.S. phone books uses about 4.68 million trees each year, and only a third of the unwanted books are recycled. Disposing or recycling these heavy tomes costs local governments (and taxpayers) $60 million annually.

How We’re Leading the Way

Phone Book Report Card

We keep up the pressure on the phone book industry. PSI ran the national dialogue meetings on phone book sustainability that led the industry to implement an opt-out system and sign a sustainability platform. We also issued a Report Card that grades top phone book publishers’ sustainability actions, so you can see how they measure up.

Phone Book Infographic

We raise awareness of existing opt-out solutions. Our most recent digital opt-out campaign motivated nearly 30,000 opt outs! Government agencies, nonprofits, and individuals across the country have used the resources in our Opt-Out Outreach Toolkit to reduce phone books in their community.

Legislation

We advocate for stewardship programs. PSI provided model bill language and technical assistance to help Seattle and San Francisco develop opt-out and opt-in ordinances, and helped states craft legislation on opt-out. We support any PSI member seeking to lobby state utility commissions to remove white pages distribution requirements.

How You Can Help

Opt out of phone book delivery if you don’t use your printed directory.

Encourage opt-out in your community to show the phone book industry how little their printed products are actually used. PSI’s handy Phone Book Opt-Out Toolkit contains everything you need to spread the word, from shareable graphics and video to PSA language.

Contact your phone book publisher to demand an opt-in system, so that only people who want printed phone books receive them. See your phone book publisher’s sustainability grade on PSI’s phone book Report Card.

Related Information

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