How To Make Money Delivering Phone Books – Last month, you probably had a new Yellow Pages phonebook (listing all the businesses in your area) delivered to your door. You may also receive white pages (listing residential addresses) as a separate volume or as a book.
If you’re like about 70 percent of Americans, you probably won’t open your phone once before next year’s patch arrives.
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Phone books were once very useful: before the Internet, they were the main way to look up the phone numbers and addresses of local businesses or people you know. But they’ve become useless for most people — recycling or throwing away the 650,000 tons of phonebooks distributed nationally each year costs municipalities between $45 and $62 million.
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Why do telephone books continue to be provided to most American households each year? Mainly because companies have fought to phase out the yellow pages for selfish reasons – they are full of ads and make money for these companies.
Meanwhile, many states legally require telephone companies to provide white pages as a public service, although these laws have been gradually disappearing over time.
Now, if you don’t use a phonebook, manufacturers have created a system that allows you to opt out online. However, critics say it’s not reliable — if you opt out, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a phonebook anyway.
The Yellow Pages is an advertisement disguised as a directory. Although all businesses in a given area are listed in smaller categories, a subset of businesses pay for ads or larger categories.
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Although phonebook ad revenues are shrinking — and shifting to digital directories — some companies (notably Dex Media, AT&T, Hibu and Verizon) are making healthy profits from the Yellow Pages distributed in the US. This is because advertising rates are often calculated based on the number of phonebooks distributed, not actual phonebook usage.
As a result, these companies are trying to reduce phonebook supply at every step – even if fewer people use them. In 2010, the city of Seattle passed the first ordinance allowing phonebook companies to avoid obtaining the Yellow Pages, and fined companies for each unwanted book.
The Local Search Association (LSA) — a trade group representing the largest phonebook companies — sued the city, arguing that the law violated their free speech rights. The group eventually overturned the law and won the case.
Interestingly, as the lawsuit continued, the local search association began their own nationwide opt-out process. “We’re trying to do the right thing here by our customers and environmentalists,” LSA president Nec Norton told TreeHugger at the time, explaining that a unified national platform would be better than city-run opt-out systems.
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But you can take a more cynical view of their strategy: The LSA sued Seattle to eliminate the precedent of municipalities having the power to regulate phone book distribution. Also, the LSA’s opt-out lacked Seattle’s accountability or transparency — there were no penalties to keep companies off the books for opt-outs. They don’t have to actively advertise the opt-out method required by the Seattle ordinance. More importantly, they reluctantly accepted the opt-out method to avoid an even worse fate: selection.
If this was indeed the strategy, it soon paid off: San Francisco passed the first-choice law in 2011, but Seattle was forced to pay $500,000 to a local search association and the group sued. In San Francisco, the city dropped its plan.
As a result, every household in the country has a default system of getting the Yellow Pages every year. You can opt out, but few are aware of this option, and some critics say the lack of accountability makes the system too ineffective. For example, my brother, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, went online and was given the yellow pages from Hibu last month.
The White Pages – which contain residential listings – are a very different story. They spend money on printing and distribution and provide essentially no revenue. For years, states have required landline providers to distribute white pages as a public service.
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However, gradually it is changing. In 2010, Verizon submitted a request to regulators in several states to allow them to develop an opt-in system for the White Pages, and in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, they received approval.
Since then, at least 12 states — Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin — have licensed various companies, although the white pages are still being distributed. Some of them are parts. Other state legislatures, like Maryland, have denied the requests, asking for hard evidence that people aren’t actually using the white pages. In response, Verizon commissioned surveys showing that just 11 percent of households rely on the White Pages to view content.
Ironically, representatives of some of these same companies have made the exact opposite argument in favor of keeping the Yellow Pages. There, companies say the low numbers actually underestimate the actual number of people using the Yellow Pages. It may be a coincidence that the yellow pages are profitable while the white pages are costly.
There’s a good argument against opt-in systems for the Yellow and White Pages: They disproportionately affect the elderly and the poor, who have little Internet access to look up addresses and phone numbers. If phone book distribution were to suddenly stop, some people would be stuck with out-of-date information.
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However, printing phone books automatically is a huge waste for millions of households across the country. Although recycled paper is commonly used, all wasteful printing generates about 3.57 million tons of greenhouse gases and uses billions of gallons of water. Also, municipalities spend millions of dollars on trash or recycling books that aren’t removed from their compendiums. There must be a better way.
It’s not hard to think of some possible fixes to make sure the optional programs are more equitable. Companies can distribute phone books with a letter explaining the new system, and send a slip if someone wants to continue receiving the books the following year. They can send follow-up letters to people or areas that are likely to actually use the books, or in urban areas – that have good Internet access – and secure current interest. Program in rural areas, as in Missouri.
Either way, it’s clearly time to stop delivering phonebooks to every home in the country. This system only benefits one group: the people who sell ads on them.
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Given how busy our schedules are, it’s easy to deliver packages, groceries, restaurant meals, and prescriptions instead of using our limited free time to run errands.
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If you’re looking for a way to make extra money, know your local area, or spend a lot of time in your car, you can take advantage of this demand by delivering on the side.
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DoorDash drivers deliver food to customers from local restaurants. Once customers place an order through the app, a delivery driver will pick it up and bring it to the customer’s home, office or other location. Delivery and service charges depend on the restaurant they choose.
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