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Is the Number Up For the Residential Phone Book? 360

Hugh Pickens writes "The first phone directory was issued in 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and for decades regulators across the US have required phone companies to distribute directories in paper form. But now the Washington Post reports that Verizon, the largest provider of landline phones in the Washington DC region, is asking state regulators for permission to stop delivering the residential white pages in Virginia and Maryland. About a dozen other states are also doing away with printed phone books as surveys show that the number of households relying on residential white pages dropped from 25 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2008. The directories will be available online, printed or on CD-ROM upon request but the inches-thick white pages, a fixture in American households for more than a century, will no longer land on porches with a thud each year. 'I'm kind of amazed they lasted as long as they have,' says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. 'But there are some people nostalgic about this. Some people like to go to the shelf and look up a number.'"
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Is the Number Up For the Residential Phone Book?

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  • Simple option? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:56AM (#34254980) Journal

    Create some method for people to opt out?

    Or make existing methods more accessible or easier to use?

    I know that if there was a simple phone number to call, and all I had to do is call in and say "Hi, I live here, don't bring me a phonebook, thanks" I would do that and be done with it.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      yes, but at some point you need to stop altogether because of cost. How much should be spent to get a few people a phone book?

      • We didn't have a problem with the cost all throughout the past decade - Did paper get exceedingly expensive this decade?

        The Yellow pages are mostly covered in cost by advertising.

        • And when you reduce the "circulation" numbers the advetising revenue stays the same, right?

        • Did paper get exceedingly expensive this decade?

          Even if not, truck fuel and labor to deliver a phone book have become more expensive.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rwven ( 663186 )

          I don't think it's really about cost anymore. I think it's about the ridiculous amount of paper every year going to print these things that I, and most other Americans, stick squarely in the trash. No one is seeing the advertising anymore, and most of these things are just tossed, unopened.

          • stick squarely in the trash... most of these things are just tossed, unopened.

            Unopened doesn't mean unused. For instance, if you replace your vegetable crisper with phone books, your fridge can now hold a keg level.

      • How much should be spent to get a few people basic phone connectivity?

        In the aggregate, a fair bit. []

        The question, I guess, is whether the "few" of the "need paper directory" case are valued as highly as the "few" of the Universal Service case.

    • Opt-out -> opt-in (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:13PM (#34255270)

      Hehe, here in the Netherlands there was a TV report recently where people complained that they still received the phone book despite opting out. Then it was reported that in Belgium you don't get one anymore unless you ask for it (opt-in). Seems like a better way to me, cuts out all the waste from people that are too lazy to opt-out.

    • Re:Simple option? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:13PM (#34255278)

      How about the even simpler option of opt in? If you find that only 11% of people use it, then making an opt out available requires 89% of the population to call in and ask to be removed.

      The idea they have of making it available on CD or in print, on request, is the best way to go.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cwix ( 1671282 )

        I think putting it on a cd is an excellent idea.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by houghi ( 78078 )

          If it is only a CD, make the ISO downloadable.

        • Re:Simple option? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:45PM (#34255792) Homepage Journal

          Not everyone has a computer, not everyone has one with a CD(today). I'm still waiting on internet service at home; the phonebook has been a lifesaver at the moment.

          I picked a couple up at the local telephone company store, they just have a bin of them, a lot like how JCPenny and Sears would have a stack of catalogs.

          Perhaps we can keep them, but do we need to print them every year anymore? Oh, and I'd say that since cell phone users have unlisted numbers by default, their usefullness is declining. Many younger people don't have home phones today, and that age is rising. Taxes on it are insane.

          I'll 'have' residential phone service because it came bundled with my internet*(any day now!). Still, there's no phone hooked up to it, so when it gets listed it'll just ring and ring. Maybe give direct them to the default mailbox that I won't monitor. Worse than useless, but I'll be in the whitepages because it'd cost $2/month for me NOT to be in there. Once I get more settled, I'm going to start calling to see if I can get the phone itself shut off - even if it only saves me the taxes, that'd likely be $12/month or so.

          *Better deal than cable, with which they'd effectively require me to buy cable, and the local cable has caps that the average slashdotter would bust without trying.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hedwards ( 940851 )
          Except that anybody that can use the CD can already access it online. I'm sure there's probably a few people who can't, but they can use a paper version along with the folks who don't have a computer at all. I'd wager that it's a similar group of folks.
      • Re:Simple option? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by delinear ( 991444 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#34255438)
        It would have to be opt in, otherwise you end up with the situation where I call them, say don't deliver, then move out - the next person is expecting a directory but the adress is marked as do not deliver so they call up to complain. Every year, a week after the directories go out, they'd be inundated with people calling to complain. With opt in, the worst that would happen is you'll get a directory when you didn't want it and throw it in the recycling bin. Seriously, though, I don't understand why they don't just withdraw it completely except as a paid service for people who call and ask for it. A few weeks ago we got one of these (actually it was the yellow pages rather than the white pages) and I put it straight in the bin - usually I go put it in a cupboard for a year but I realised I've been doing that for the best part of ten years and I've never had to resort to it because the internet is so much simpler, and even calling the directory services is easier than digging out a paper version. If there are a handful of holdouts who like a bit dead tree version I'm sure they wouldn't mind calling for it and paying a small sum to cover the cost associated with producing a low-volume edition with reduced/no ads.
    • In TFS: it's available in most cases.

      However, I'd rather keep the white pages, and ditch the yellow pages. I actually use the former, the latter is just annoying and makes it difficult to find what I want interspersed with all the crappy adds.

      Then again, with Google and anywho, I've not opened either in years. They both end up simply going from the doorstep to the recycle box.

    • Re:Simple option? (Score:4, Informative)

      by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @01:03PM (#34256076) Journal []

      This site will search, based on your zip code, for all opt-out options available in your area.

      This site made the rounds last month on a number of blogs....

  • Not everyone is 20 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blai ( 1380673 )
    Some find it easier to open a book than to get a computer up.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      I'm 46, and I have wanted the phone book to go away for over 10 years. Based on the drop in phone books, most people don't want it, AND most people are well over 20.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What about when the power is out? How do you get the number to call hot food service X? or gym Y across town to see if they have power and hot showers? What if it's an extended outage and you are calling to see if grocery store Z is open (with or without power) to replenish your staples (food not brads)? Not only do the companies save money by not printing, but they make money every time you would have used the resource they are no longer providing when you call information.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by bastia ( 145202 )
        TFA is talking about the residential white pages. Not the yellow pages.
        • Your whitepages must be different than mine, as mine has businesses listed in addition to people.

      • Mobile internet? Go there and see if they're open? My phone charges in my car, and I can find any place, and often the hours without having to actually call.

        If you really want a phone book, then get one. They're not saying they won't have one. They're just saying that they won't give you one unless you ask for it. If you still have a wired phone and no mobile Internet, then you can ask for one.

      • I think there's a pretty simple consistancy check to run here - if you are using your home phone to do these things, then sure, you might want a phonebook. But most people have cell phones. If you belong to a gym, you could have put the contact entry in there (though I don't expect you to have your grocery store.) But even more people nowadays have smartphones - it's one quick trip to Google Maps for me. Same data, less dead trees.

      • Call someone with power?

        I mean, if you have a phone that works, you have the ability to call people and ask them to find a number for you. If you don't have a phone that works, a phone book won't help you anyway.
      • What if the telephone line goes down, or it's too dark to see and you don't have a torch/candles to read the directory, or your kids used it to make a papier-mâché volcano for a school project? We can all come up with circumstances where method X will be rendered useless by event Y, but seriously, for most people this isn't an issue, and for the ones where it is an issue they'll more than likely have a contingency (like writing down some useful numbers, or just driving to the store to see if they
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tukang ( 1209392 )

        What about when the power is out? How do you get the number to call hot food service X? or gym Y across town to see if they have power and hot showers? What if it's an extended outage and you are calling to see if grocery store Z is open (with or without power) to replenish your staples (food not brads)?


    • But even before I got internet I rarely used the white pages. Many people we knew had their numbers unlisted, and more were in adjacent towns not included in the book we received. Growing up my family always had separate phone number lists sitting next to the phone - one we made ourselves with friends/family and common businesses, and printed directories for all the groups we were in: church, boyscouts, band, etc. I honestly can't remember ever using the whitepages my entire life.

      Now that many people have c

  • damn time.

  • On one hand I never use the thing making it a giant waste of paper.

    On the other hand when the power is out it comes in handy as all my numbers are either stored in autodial or a local Google search away both of which don't work with the power off...

  • If they want to cut that cost, they will need to find a highly effective way to ensure that the handful of people who do use them (lots of elderly and poor folks) have a very easy way to get one.

    In the meantime, paper books aren't too hard on the environment, and the cost of printing them it nothing against even one month's profit on a landline phone.

    In short, the status quo isn't that bad.

    • But they also have to pay to deliver them. I would probably be cheaper to mail them to the maybe 20% of users who request them than to go around throwing them at everybody's houses in your own trucks.
    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      The cost is in the distribution. In many cases, phone books are profitable due to the menagerie of advertising they contain. There are quite a few for-profit companies out there doing this, but I imagine doing the leg work to make them profitable isn't something the utilities want to do.

  • No way! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What am I supposed to burn in my fireplace? Wood? Bull, you burn wood. This aint' 1876, bitch. I start my phone book fire by rubbing two Blackberry's together and heat the rest of the rooms in my house using monitors to watch my live video stream of the blaze.

  • In a power outage, my landline phone and phone book still work well. Having the directory on CDROM would do nothing for me. Having it online would not help me out either. Not everyone lives near a cellular tower.
    • Your phone works in a power outage?

      When did this happen? I must be living in the stone age.

    • Just who would you call during a power outage, out of the blue, all of a sudden? Knowing you won't have a big white book, you should have a small personal file/folder/address book containing emergency numbers. Or even without cellphone reception, you can still look it up in your mobile's own phonebook.

  • That would seem to be obvious as the next steps.
  • The apocalypse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fnj ( 64210 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:05PM (#34255112)

    As an official Old Guy, I find that rituals often have value. The morning trip to the bird feeder gives me a measure of purpose, and opening a phone book to look up a number gives me a bit of awe at the scale of my surroundings, and fixes the number in my mind for a few seconds longer than otherwise might be the case. A hypothetical EMP probably won't damage my black dial phone, and field trips to the central office indicate it might well not be damaged either, so it's nice to think two Old Guys could look each other up regardless of the internet being destroyed and chat for a while before the food runs out and the batteries in the central office run down and wild dogs begin to tear everyone apart.

    • Even worse, you'll miss out on your favourite past time of crossing off people who die from the book.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rude Turnip ( 49495 )

      Rituals have value as long as they are relevant and beneficial. This particular ritual is a waste of resources.

  • A few days ago, i received my new residential phonebook. When i looked for the old one, i found it still shrink-wrapped. Same happend with it's predecessor and the one before it.

    Since i get them delivered to my home door, i don't care much. But i wouldn't waste any effort to get a new phonebook.

  • This was all brought about by the fact cell phone numbers were not published in the white pages, the reliability of the system failed when a large percentage of people were not listed.

    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      The white pages haven't been the primary utility in phone books for a long time. It's the yellow pages.

      Phone books actually are fairly effective advertising vehicles for companies: a person new to town can open it up and quickly find out what's available in their locality for hardware stores, attorneys, groceries, etc. They're effective to advertise in, because pretty much everyone keeps one around the house "just in case".

      For white pages, you get the number of the person you want to contact from the person

  • As long as a free book form is available by delivery as well, I don't see a problem with this. Like some have said, some people (particularly elderly people) either don't know where to go online to find these, or might not even have a computer to put a CD-ROM in. It's of course a lot cheaper to not send books out to everyone as well, not to mention better for the environment (less paper, don't use a lot of gas delivering them). Really kind of a non-issue, as long as they leave the choice of book form ava
  • There are people nostalgic about anything, but this is a very good move. Who knows how much paper and other resources is wasted printing those damn things every year.

  • If only 11% report using it, why are they printed? Perhaps a better option is an opt in? Make them available to those who want them, saving paper, printing costs, etc. Heck, most people I know don't even have a land line any more so it is pretty useless to someone like me. I also have a laptop and my FiOS has a battery back up (provided by Verizon) so either a CD-ROM or Internet lookup would work ok for me I suppose.
  • As ever, my primary concern is user privacy. There are a variety of controls in place that govern the maintenance and use of call logs that the phone company keeps. None of those laws would apply to logs of phone number lookups. I would expect privacy to eventually settle to about the level (and consistency) you see for library checkout history, but without starting a conversation, it'll just end up as one more bit of data the phone company call sell about you (assuming you have the same company for phon

  • Good, it's a waste of paper, and you have the option of requesting it anyway. Now if they could only get rid of flyers and other crap that piles up as well, it just goes straight into the recycling bin anyway, what's the point? It's really depressing how much goes into my mailbox every single day and straight into the bin, where even more energy has to be used to make it back into perfectly usable paper again, which will no doubt end up going right back in the bin! Many of these are printed with high qua
  • So now how will I be able to randomly Browse the phone book looking for. People. With hilarious names. I mean, Harry Ball? That's golden.
    • I remember seeing "Long Long Wang" in the Denton phone book. Yeah, there are some hidden treasures there.
  • I use my phone books as fire-starting material for those cold winter nights. I'd miss having those pages around to get the logs going.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:18PM (#34255388)

    Bell did NOT invented the phone. I have no clue why it repeated over and over again. It was NOT Bell.

    That german inventor invented the telephone 17 years earlier and even coined the word "telephone".
    US-centric bias?

  • ... they weren't charging for directory assistance.

    While I can't remember the last time I bothered looking something up in the Book, it seems sketchy to expect folks to subscribe to a different service (internet) in order to fully use this one.

  • The white pages (residential) are only available upon request starting this year in the following cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, the Ottawa-Gatineau area and Quebec City. Before that they were on a 24-month cycle starting in 2005.

    If you want to request a phone book, go here: []

  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#34255434) Homepage Journal
    As hard as some people here may find it to believe, there are people in this country - perhaps even in your own neighborhood - who don't own computers. Hence all the online and CD-ROM directories in the world won't help them a bit; they need the printed phone book to look up numbers. They don't use the printed phone book because they want "nostalgia", they use it because it's the only resource they have (or want).
  • conundrum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by andcal ( 196136 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @12:24PM (#34255484)

    So, how do you call the power company when the electricity goes out? I mean the first time the electricity goes out, I mean (because by the time the electricity goes out for the second time, you will have looked up the number and put it in your cellphone.) Wait, no, you just look it up on your cellphone the first time, because your cellphone can access the internet.
    I guess people with cellphones that can't access the internet to look up a number are becoming as rare as people with no cellphone and only a cordless phone on their landline.

    • Usually the service number can be found on a recent bill, unless you get your bills online, like I do. Even if that's the case, you should be able to power up a laptop and retrieve the number from your emails.

  • This is going to stink! For years we've used the phonebooks at work as monitor stands. Most of our monitors do not have height adjustable stands, so when we end up with 2 different sized monitors they don't line up AT ALL. A few phonbooks later and all of our top edges are the same the same along all 4 monitors.

  • Old phone books make excellent backing for targets in your basement shooting range. Back in my high school days, a friend converted his semi-automatic MAC-10 to fully-automatic with a new lower receiver. Ma Bell would have been proud to see how her phone books stood up sturdily against a hail of .45 caliber slugs.

    Google "Uses for old phone books" for more information about this wonderfully useful material.

  • I have TWO sets of Yellow Pages dropped on my driveway from two different companies, covering the Washington DC metro area.

    I also get THREE sets of local directories for my city (Bowie).

    And two free local newspapers.

    NONE of them have a simple way to opt out, because they make their money from being able to say "we dropped our stuff on N thousand driveways in the area".

    I think the only way to get them to stop will be to have them arrested for littering.

  • But how will my toddler be able to reach the kitchen table without a nice new phone book to sit on? What will keep my bedroom door from closing when the heater kicks on? what will I use to clean my intaglio plates? What? you mean those are real people's names in there?
  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @01:02PM (#34256068) Homepage

    Not listing cell phones anywhere - even online - means there is no way to find the phone number of someone without a landline. As people continue to figure out the relability difference between a cell phone (very, very unreliable) and a landline (very, very reliable) and move to cell-only they drop out of any directory.

    So, how do you find the phone number of your child's 3rd grade teacher? In 1960 you used the phone book. In 2010 you don't, period. People are now unreachable unless you have a prior relationship and they expect you to call them.

    How do you find the phone number of your neighbor with a spotlight aimed at your window at 2:00 AM? You don't. You can either call the police or walk over there and hope they are receptive. Maybe they have a "shoot first and ask questions later" policy so the phone would be much, much better. The police would probably ignore you as a crank anyway.

    When a cell phone was an unimportant adjunct and very, very costly it made sense not to have them in any sort of directory. In 1987 or so you could run up a charge of several dollars for someone by calling them. 23 years later it might not make sense to not have these phone numbers listed.

    • by CrashandDie ( 1114135 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:02PM (#34257014)

      Note that in most European countries, as the mobile phone billing system is reversed (caller pays, not callee, unless roaming in another country) it is quite popular to have mobile phone numbers in the yellow/white pages.

      Just looking at the pizza section of my local area, about half the numbers are mobile numbers. Looking at the doctor section, all the doctors that do house calls have a mobile listed. Some people have the same mobile number for longer than their landline. During my teens, I had one mobile phone number, and about 8 different landlines.

      This being said, you have to draw a line at some point. Would I look up my neighbour's number at 2AM? No, I'd just pull the curtains after giving him the finger. If I need to urgently call a teacher, why don't I already have the number? When I was a kid, the head teacher would ask for our phone number, at the beginning of every year. I did exactly the same, and wrote it down somewhere.

      Plus, the shoot-first argument is only valid in the US. To be fair, I've never had a neighbour who'd stop something I found annoying even if I asked. Having a phone number wouldn't really matter anyway.

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @01:04PM (#34256096)
    Our children will no longer be able to smoothly transition from the high chair to a regular chair without the phone book.

    And what to use for haircuts?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @01:21PM (#34256334) Homepage

    The free online "white pages" services have usually obtained their data by scanning phone books. Where will they get their data now?

    Since Feist vs. Rural Telephone, it's been settled law in the US that the listings in telephone directories are not copyrightable. There's no originality. This created the third-party directory industry. But for online directories, there are EULAs and rate limiting on queries. There's no way to do a bulk download. "" has these terms: [] "Among other limitations, you may not: ... compile the Results Data in a database and store such data for any future use ... publish, transit, distribute, or resell any Results Data." AnyWho (run by AT&T) has the terms: [] "You agree that you will not use the Service or the information obtained through the Service ... for incorporation into a commercial product or service ... to download directory listings or other information by using any type of automated means ...".

    So another data source that used to be open is now closed.

"I think trash is the most important manifestation of culture we have in my lifetime." - Johnny Legend