Watching Weeds Grow Around The Phone Book

neglected phone books left outside

Does it look like this in your town? Over a week ago, the phone books were delivered to my neighborhood, and the above is a photo I took of a set of 10 mailboxes. As you can see, 8 of the mailbox owners have left their phone books laying rather forlornly on the ground, subject to all weather. That’s an 80% rate of neglect. I have noticed this all over my region of the world, and have been left asking myself, “are people just lazy; is it like this every year; or have phone books really gone the way of dinosaurs?”

I feel sad when I look at the massive waste of paper and plastic. I feel sorry when I think of the fact that the whole Yellow Pages section of those phone books is a record of the dreams of local business owners who are hoping my neighbors will flip the pages and do business. I feel regret when I think of all of the people who work for the big phone book companies and who, from what I understand, are having less and less luck getting advertising contracts with local businesses.

But the thing is, when I needed to get my car smogged last week, I Googled an auto repair shop.

When I wanted to buy a camera last year, I talked to family members, did competitive research online and then used the web to find a local source for the camera I decided to purchase.

When I moved house and needed to find about 100 different things for the move and the new place, I turned to my computer to get a picture of what my new town could offer me.

When my family members want to eat out, they read reviews at Yelp. When they need driving directions, they go to MapQuest. When they are looking for a bargain, they go to Craigslist or eBay. The last time I can remember seeing someone I know use a phone book, it was to hike up a baby so he could have a seat at the dinner table.

The point is, our fingers seem to have forgotten how to do the walking unless it’s over a keyboard. For better or for worse, the weeds growing ’round the old phone book aptly illustrate what I see as the present attitude toward a medium that has come to be seen as old technology. The way of the dinosaurs, right?

But, let’s not forget that the dinosaurs are still with us, in a way, as the birds we see flying all around us. Yellow Pages have gone online in an effort to adapt to the changing times, and I’m wishing them luck in their evolution. I would especially love to see one of the yellow-page-type entities make a serious, usable stab at getting medical provider data right, as this is one area in which Google has utterly dropped the ball.

Phone the doctors, one by one, and get their contact information straight, and they’ll be doing something Google has no plans to do. And, it would be in the spirit of accuracy that the phone book has been able to count as its strength against the web’s weakness. But this will have to be done on the web to avoid the knee-high-weed scenario shown above. Or, maybe that’s just my corner of the world. Maybe where you live, everyone snapped up their phone books as soon as they hit the dust? Take a look around the next time you’re out and about and let me know.

As for my neighbors, I guess it’s time to recycle your phone books.

8 Responses to “Watching Weeds Grow Around The Phone Book”

  1. on 13 May 2009 at 6:09 pm paul jahn

    Wonderful post and thank you for it. Yes, it looks like this in my town as well. The amount of abandoned print Yellow Pages is huge.

    I’m certainly a fan of Internet Yellow Pages and their relationships with search engines. I’m even a fan of print books for businesses who benefit from it.

    I’m not a fan of print book advocates who throw inflated stats at me and telling me how to think. IMO, the Yellow Pages Association could benefit more from listening to users. My hopes are high, but expectations are low.

  2. on 13 May 2009 at 11:03 pm admin

    Welcome to the SEOigloo, Paul,

    I just paid my first visit to your blog and have put you in my feedreader. I’ll be reading your future blog posts with interest, and I enjoyed the photos in your most recent one. Looks like you live in a pretty neat place!

    The YP sales guys have it tough. I’ve known a couple of them, and though they could only offer me their own perspective, their worklife sounded awful…bosses screaming at employees for not making enough sales, people living under the constant threat of being fired. It’s terrible.

    They are trained in a whole language of persuasion that strives to convince the business owner that advertising will get them the moon. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it comes down to it, those sales are what put food on the salesman’s table and they are so driven, it’s almost scary.

    That’s certainly not a quality specific to YP, but I have heard from many people whom, like yourself, have been really put off by the sales approach of the YP folks. I vote with you for listening to users!

    Thanks for stopping by, and it would be a pleasure to have you here again.


  3. on 14 May 2009 at 2:04 pm Tim Coleman

    One of the things you can’t overlook when you see these abandoned directories is multiple publishers.

    In most markets there was only one publisher until about 2000. A change to the law regarding phone listing data allowed real competition in the industry for the first time in the late 90’s.

    So when you see these directories abandoned it could be because people already have a directory and don’t want/need a second.

    Believe it or not it may not be an internet thing… but that’s hard to determine because the timing of multiple publisher and the internet gaining momentum overlaps.

  4. on 15 May 2009 at 1:44 pm admin

    Hi Tim,
    Great to see you here. That’s very true, about the multiple directories. Here, we have the Big Book, and the Little Book. This is the big one. Which makes me surprised to see it neglected…more surprised than if it were the little book.

    But, yes, the idea of having more than 1 phone book and the, perhaps, limited appeal of that could well play into this. Though, because this is the Big Book, I am less inclined to believe this is the case in this situation. This is the one with the most complete listings. It seems like people would want it most. Hmmm. Good thoughts.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. on 03 Jun 2009 at 9:32 pm Matthew Hunt

    So true – Yellowpages Books are such a waste of paper, it won’t be long before they stop dropping those books off. The sooner the better, so we can those last few people who don’t use the internet to catch-up to the year 1996 :)

    The yellowpages is as relevant as typewriters are to computers – totally useless!

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