by Tania Deluzuriaga, New York Times News Service
They’re the original search engines, leftover from the days of rotary phones and answering machines.
Once valued reference books kept in a certain drawer or cabinet for easy and frequent access, the massive telephone directories landing on doorsteps and in apartment foyers across the city in recent weeks seemed bound for more ignoble destinations.
Days after hundreds of thousands of the 2,000-page, 4-pound tomes were delivered, they began showing up in recycling bins and trash dumpsters. From Beacon Hill to Jamaica Plain, they moldered on porches and driveways, lay strewn across sidewalks, and sat in large, untouched piles in condo and apartment buildings.
In an era when consumers are increasingly conscious of the waste they generate, arrival of the phone books was greeted with an annoyed sigh or worse.
"All that’s waste," grumbled Gerri Cummings, 70, eyeing the waist-high pile of phone books orphaned in the foyer of her South Boston apartment building. Yellow Book delivered stacks of its yellow pages directories, enough for each of the residents of Cummings’ 96-unit building for the elderly and disabled. A few days later, Verizon did the same.
"All my phone numbers are in my phone," Cummings said, waving a silver cellphone that she keeps in her pocket.
A few blocks away, 33-year-old Jason Muth vented his disgust in his blog.
"Each time I’m greeted by piles of bound paper at my doorstep, I think the same exact thing: what a waste," he wrote. "The energy to distribute and manufacture these, the raw materials used to print these, and our time to dispose of them properly."
When Verizon delivered its directories a couple days later, Muth’s disgust turned to anger. Of the 10 directories delivered to his address this month, not one made it inside, he said.
"What industry is indiscriminately allowed to throw their product on your front step and leave you to deal with it?" he fumed in a phone interview. "It’s environmentally wrong; it’s morally wrong."
Representatives from Verizon and Yellow Book declined to speak to a reporter about their products or distribution practices. In a written statement, a Verizon spokesman said the company has regionalized its directory and made it smaller and more user-friendly. Yellow Book, which distributed 883,000 copies of its directory in the Boston area last year, said that 87 percent of adults use a print phone directory at least once a year.
"We get complaints from people when they don’t get their phone book," said Stephanie Hobbs, a spokeswoman for the Yellow Pages Association, the industry’s trade organization.
For those who don’t want it, there is little recourse. Unlike services that let consumers sign up for no-call lists to stop cold-calling advertisers, it’s not so easy to avoid getting the phone book. Some directory companies have phone numbers that residents can call to stop phone book deliveries to their homes, but the numbers can be hard to locate. And governments say they are constrained in imposing blanket restrictions.
"It’s a First Amendment issue," said Sharon Gillett, commissioner of the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable. "How are they different from free newspapers or political fliers?"
Despite competition from the Internet, the phone directory market continues to slowly grow, with a value this year of about billion, according to the Yellow Pages Association.
While services like Google and 411 are providing heightened competition, people still turn to their yellow pages when they are ready to buy, Hobbs said, citing a third-party study that found American adults consulted phone books 13.4 billion times last year.
But even some advertisers in the books say they’re questioning the practice. "I keep contemplating whether I should give it up; it costs me a fortune," said Scott Ruth, a Marlborough plumber who ran an ad for his business in the Boston Yellow Book.
Though business has been good, Ruth said, he has all the work he can handle, and he is not sure that spending "several thousand dollars" a year on advertising in the phone book is worth it.
"I haven’t picked one up in I don’t know how long," he said.
Yellow Pages Replacement = Local Google Advertising
Contact David Bruce Jr at email@example.com 240 315-1515
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