The New Yorker Weighs In on Seattle's Phone-Book War

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The eyes of the nation are on Seattle today as it battles to rid the city of excess and unwanted phone books.

Actually it's mainly the eyes of The New Yorker's readers that are on Seattle today, but still.

It's now been about seven months since Seattle became the first city in the country to pass an ordinance that forces phone-book publishers like Dex One to allow residents to "opt out" of receiving the antiquated tomes, and that furthermore requires them to obtain a permit and pay 14 cents for each copy they send out.

Since then the phone-book lobbying group The Local Search Association (changed from the Yellow Pages Association when people realized they hate the term "Yellow Pages") has challenged the law in court, and on Sunday U.S. District Court Judge James Robart ruled against the phone-bookers, saying that the city of Seattle's interest in privacy and waste reduction trumps the publishers' argument that their ad-heavy books are a public service and therefore deserving of the highest level of First-Amendment protection.

The New Yorker today compares the act of getting a phone book on one's doorstep to getting other outdated technology there.

. . . common sense, shared experience, and bountiful evidence suggest that the phone book's continued viability relies more on its ubiquity than its usefulness. Just because it is familiar, doesn't mean it's worth saving. Imagine if someone delivered a free V.C.R., Walkman, or Mini-Disc player to your doorstep. And then next year, long after you'd thrown it out, that another one appeared.

What's most interesting about The New Yorker's story is that they point out how surprisingly profitable the phone-book industry is. Phone-book publishers apparently cleared $14 billion in revenue last year, made almost exclusively from advertisers who pay actual money to put ads in the books.

This even though almost no one under 60 ever uses a copy of the Yellow Pages for anything other than attempting to rip it in half as a showcase of strength.

Apparently Dex One ad reps are the most superhuman salespeople on earth.

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