I had an interesting discussion this week with Amy Healy of the Yellow Pages Association. You may recall a few weeks back we blogged about a movement in Norway to give consumers the ability to opt out of print directory distribution.
A similar effort is brewing in pockets in scattered communities around the United States. A bill in North Carolina, for example, would require publishers to make it easy for consumers to request that they not receive a particular print directory.
Healy says there is definitely a strong environmental element to this movement, as well as push back from local municipalities concerned about the impact of so many directories on the solid waste stream.
Also at work, she argues, is the same consumer sentiment that made the Do Not Call movement the most successful piece of consumer activism in recent memory. The driving idea is the desire to take control over the stream of media flowing into our personal space.
Healy calls it a “perfect storm” that combines the green movement with the consumer empowerment movement.
Directory publishers have every right to be offended at the idea of being lumped in with as motley a crew as e-mail spammers and cheesy telemarketers.
Even Yellow Pages’ harshest critics acknowledge that directories provide a valuable service to both users and advertisers. Plus, when it comes to complaints about print Yellow Pages environmental impact, there has always been a bit less there than meets the eye.
That said, we cant let the industry completely off the hook on this. The opt-out movement would be nowhere without the proliferation in the number of books the average home receives. Sure, this is the free market at work. But in all honesty, do any of us really need five directories in our homes?
It may well be that the invisible hand of the market will not be given enough time to do its work in weeding out weaker players. Legislators, egged on by annoyed consumers, overwhelmed waste management directors and mobilized environmental groups, may impose an opt-out system, at least in some communities. This would give consumers the same control over their front doorstep the Do Not Call List has given them over who can call at home just as they settle in to hear Kiefer Sutherland announce, “previously on 24.”
The industry is fighting these bills as they crop up, as well it should. No industry would welcome having such a regime imposed on it. Nor should it.
Still, it is hard to see an easy out here, assuming this movement gains momentum. No publisher in any given market will unilaterally disarm if it is having success or believes it can be successful in the near term. The publishers that get ahead of the curve with greater targeting, distribution efficiency and other innovations aimed at producing the same or better results for advertisers with a smaller print “footprint” will be the ultimate winners in all this.