YPA, ADP Push Web Site as Break Against Opt-Out Wave

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Two sometimes rival U.S. directory industry associations have joined forces to build a more robust one-stop opt-out Web site (due out early next year) that they hope will mitigate the growing trend toward  local opt-out legislation. The new site will replace the existing www.yellowpagesoptout.com and will use the same URL.

The industry has followed a two-pronged path in the face of legislation aimed at curbing directory distribution. The first element is to fight each piece of legislation, and the second is to promote self-regulation as a preferable alternative to government mandates. A stronger online effort to provide a one-stop opt-out resource is key to the latter element of the strategy having any credibility.

On a webinar last week, the Yellow Pages Association and Association of Directory Marketing cited the Direct Marketing Association as their model, noting that since they DMA launched its own robust national opt-out mechanism, via a Web site, the direct marketing industry has seen legislative efforts to curb direct mail abate significantly.

This effort to build a robust opt-out self-policing mechanism has taken on added urgency because of what the industry is facing in Seattle, where a pretty tough piece of opt-out legislation continues to work its way through the city’s legislative process. Last Tuesday, a council committee passed the ordinance, and a vote by the full city council is possible as early as today, according to the YPA. All the publishers that operate in Seattle (DexOne, SuperMedia, Yellowbook) have agreed to participate on the new industry opt-out site.

On the webinar last week, ADP President Larry Angove was particularly blunt in describing the stakes for directory publishers. “If what is going on in Seattle hasn’t scared the daylights out of you, then you are in denial,” Angove said. “The best and only way to avoid [further legislative action] is self-regulation.”

Angove’s constituency is primarily smaller, independent publishers that arguably have been less aggressive in combating the opt-out wave head with self-regulation. DexOne is probably the most progressive in this area, having launched a robust Web site, www.selectyourdex.com, that in many ways is the model for the new industry-wide effort to be launched in early 2011.

The Seattle legislation would do several things designed to ensure that consumers who don’t want phone books don’t get them, and that the city recovers the costs it incurs in the process of disposing of old and unwanted phone books. These include establishing a city-run (but third-party managed) Web site where Seattle consumers could go to opt out; assess “advance recovery” fees on phone book publishers to pay for the Web site and the cost of disposal (14 cents per book plus $148 a ton); require lifetime opt-out recognition (the associations say three years is more reasonable); and require prominent display of opt-out information on directory covers. In addition, substantial fines will be assessed for violations.

Some of the upcoming site features touted by the associations include the ability to opt out or opt in for up to three additional directories (similar to Select Your Dex), tracking of opt-out records in case of disputes, daily updates, and reporting of opt-out usage data. The associations also plan to survey consumers on a regular basis to ensure the system is effective. The site is still in the conceptual phase. While the associations said Jan. 1 was the projected launch, they made it clear that it could take a bit longer to get the site ready for launch.

Update: In a memorandum sent around to ADP members today, association President Larry Angove said the Seattle ordinance is up for a vote today and is expected to pass “by a significant majority.”

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