Consumers Spoke and the Message is Clear: Phone Book Publishers Must Take Opt-Out Requests Seriously or Pursue Opt-In Instead

by Megan Byers

Old_Phonebooks_litterAbout a decade ago, at the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI)’s urging, the Local Search Association (which represents phone book publishers) created a website where residents can choose to halt phone book delivery.

In the past year, PSI documented more than 29,000 opt-outs generated through our Phone Book Opt-Out Toolkit, a trove of public outreach materials that makes promoting opt-out as easy as copy-and-paste for governments, environmental organizations, and concerned citizens.

We asked people to rate how easy or difficult it is to opt out on the industry-run opt-out website via an anonymous survey. 74 percent of respondents provided additional feedback to elaborate on their experience. Here’s what we learned:

  1. 69 percent of respondents found the opt-out website “very easy” or “easy” to use.
    PSI commends the industry for creating a website that is easy for many people to use.

 “The site was easy to use and the link easy to share so more people could reduce the number of unwanted phone books! Thanks.”

  1. But over a third of respondents thought the process was too long and confusing. Some even gave up.
    The website does not make it clear from the start that opting out is a multi-step process. Counter intuitively, you have to register to unregister from phone book distribution. Common criticisms include that the opt-out process is too time consuming, the website is not mobile friendly, and it is annoying to create an account. Some respondents said that it would be easier to opt in than opt out, and that it felt like the website was intentionally designed to make people feel uncomfortable and confused, thus preventing completed opt-outs.

“You asked for a lot of information and it was time consuming to have to wait for the email so I could complete the opt out.”

“I gave up because it was so complicated. At some point I needed a password to register.”

  1. One in five respondents who gave additional feedback were wary of giving up personal information like their name, email address, and phone number in addition to their address.
    The opt-out website promises that all information required is used only for verification purposes. Still, some survey respondents were skeptical.

 “I hate giving out my name, personal phone in order to opt out.”

  1. 40 percent of respondents who gave additional feedback reported that it didn’t work – they still got phone books after opting out.
    It is notable that PSI’s survey did not ask about opt-out outcomes (after all, we merely intended to capture feedback about the opt-out process). Nevertheless, many respondents wrote that phone book deliveries continued after opt-out.

 “I opted out – about 5 years ago – yet I continue to get phone books delivered to me (including another one this weekend)! After each incident, I’ve directly emailed my contacts at Local Search Association and reported the unwanted delivery. Each time, they’ve reached out to the specific publisher to “address the issue,” but despite this, I continue to get phone books. Very frustrating. It doesn’t appear to be working due to either publishers not providing their delivery people with opt-out lists or the delivery people just ignoring the lists if they are provided. So 4 years of unwanted deliveries (post-opt-out) and counting…”

PSI applauds the phone book industry for supporting an opt-out website that most people find easy to use. Now, we urge improvements that would make opting out easy, accessible, and comfortable for all. The feedback PSI has gathered is a good place to start.

We fully recognize that delivering directories to some buildings but not others has very real challenges and requires time, effort, investment, technology, and good communication with distributors. But if any other service failed to do what it promised almost half the time, it would quickly be replaced. If the industry’s opt-out system can’t actually honor half of the requests they receive, we must ask: isn’t there a better way?

It is time for the Local Search Association to implement an opt-in system. This way, those who want phone books could easily opt into delivery by signing up online, mailing in a slip, or calling the publisher. Those who don’t use phone books would avoid environmental and economic impacts while keeping their homes clutter-free. Furthermore, local businesses could more accurately assess how to best spend their advertising budget and target their phone book ads to the right audience. To sustain advertising revenue, publishers should expand and improve online offerings to make YellowPages.com the number one stop for consumers in need of local business information.

Phone books should be delivered only to consumers who request them – just like any other product.

Until an opt-in system is available, the best option to stop phone book delivery is to opt out. If you still receive a phone book despite opting out, we encourage you to call both the publisher and Neg Norton, President of the Local Search Association, which runs YellowPagesOptOut.com.

Look in your phone book for a publisher name and find them online, or browse our list of top publishers. Mr. Norton can be reached at (908) 286-2385 or Neg.Norton@localsearchassociation.org.

Questions? Contact PSI’s Megan Byers.

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