San Francisco Delays Opt-In Vote, Seeks More Info

In a move that can be seen as a victory for the Yellow Pages industry, the San Francisco board of supervisors decided to delay a vote on its contentious Yellow Pages opt-in ordinance, seeking a study from the city economist to determine if arguments about job loss and hardship for small businesses are valid. The report is due May 10, and its contents may help determine whether the industry’s victory is temporary.

The opt-in ordinance was proposed by board of supervisors president David Chiu, who has announced plans to run for mayor. He may have seen attacking phone book distribution as an easy pro-environment issue. The Yellow Pages industry organized small-business owners, unions representing directory employees and competing publishers to oppose the bill, even mounting a demonstration, which is the San Francisco version of fighting fire with fire.

At first, the demonstrations seemed only to stiffen Chiu’s spine. However, the delay and comments from some of council members suggest the claims that jobs are at risk have at least gotten the attention of supervisors.

In the end, the study may only delay a yes vote on the ordinance, but the industry has at least scored some points in its effort to fight the ordinance. Given his ambitions and the prestige he has invested in this ordinance, Chiu is likely to fight hard for passage. If support weakens, he may be forced to water down the ordinance so that he can win a vote and declare victory. Time will tell.

In an email this morning, Yellow Pages Association President Neg Norton said the industry is working to get small businesses more involved in the effort.

“We’ve begun a merchant outreach program this week in the key districts that will produce letters, videos and petitions as well as a phone bank program where concerned citizens can be patched through to their supervisor to express their opinions. We’ll also begin to gather data on the issues they’re likely to raise with us. It’s been an amazing effort by the coalition we’ve established and we’re making progress.”

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Amy Hammes

    I am in favor of the ordinance mainly because it allows the consumer a choice on whether to receive directories that litter their doorstep. I currently receive 3 and they aren’t even cracked open because I, like most American under the age of 70 use the internet for directory information. This ordinance will not outlaw phone books but merely let residents opt-in. What is the big deal? Oh yea, the distribution affects your ad rates. Guess what, it will finally be truthful data and true insight as to how little the Book That Gets Used, is actually used in the year 2011!

    The industry has been lacking in their producer responsibility and instead has allowed cash-strapped municipalities and consumers to pick up the tab of recycling or disposal for way too long.

    Imagine if the American Telephone and TELEGRAPH company saw that a new paradigm had arrived, they staged protests to make sure their antiquated technology was protected! No, Ma Bell saw the future and it was land lines, then cell phones, cable and on-line not the telegraph, hence why it is called “AT&T”.

    It is an antiquated business model that does not want to let it’s grip go. I support union jobs but we can’t prop them up for people like me who won’t use your product and hate excessive waste. Let the public decide and then adjust your business model accordingly. There is still a place for directories and their advertisers and I am sure you will innovate and find that role…just leave my doorstep alone.

  2. Charles Laughlin

    Amy
    Thanks for your comment. To clarify something, Yellow Pages is not “our” product. We do work with companies that publish Yellow Pages directories, but mostly on issues related to how they migrate their business online. And we also work with many companies that are arguably digital competitors to the Yellow Pages.

    One of my general responses to arguments like yours is that print Yellow Pages is used more often than most people think. That said, we all know print usage is in long term decline, and no doubt a place like San Francisco is at the leading edge of that decline. I personally believe an opt-out regime is fair, necessary and inevitable. Opt in has always struck me as punitive to the industry. And yes, the industry has probably brought some of this on themselves with its distribution practices, and with the proliferation of directories. The latter point, however, is the result of free market competition. I would guess the market will ultimately solve that issue, though perhaps not as soon as some would hope.

  3. Joe Golden

    Charles,
    The facts are that print directories are used way less often than people think. Just take a look at the metered ads that your industry uses the numbers of calls drop dramatically every year and show no sign of increasing.Your company has alot to lose if yellow pages die, how much of your companys revenue comes from the Yellow page industry? Its a huge part of your business and you know it.You should not pretend to a non biased third party because you are not. Besides that what the heck is wrong with an opt in system anybody that really wants one of those bid pieces of crap can get one if they want. I suspect your industry knows that most people dont want one and your distribution will drop so much that you will have to lower your rates. Another thing, didnt we learn anything from the last financial crisis you cant let an industry regulate itself it never works.Let the market take over and if people want a book they can get one, I suspect they wont and those big wasteful books will go away like records and 8 track tapes. Come on Charles they have nor been relevent for over a decade.

    Joe Golden

  4. Charles Laughlin

    Joe
    Thanks for the comment. I think everyone accepts that usage is declining for printed Yellow Pages, especially in larger cities. But there is still usage there and some businesses do rely on it, particularly service businesses. There is a also fair arguement to be made whether the business should be regulated out of existance or allow market forces to run their course. As for our involvement with the Yellow Pages industry, we do work with many of the companies in the industry and are proud of it. We also work with many companies that are trying to eat the Yellow Pages’ lunch. Niether fact is a secret. We’ve been pretty clear in stating that we believe the Yellow Pages should have acted more aggressively to solve the issues that led to the opt-out movement. So we haven’t been the apologists that you seem to be implying that we are. That said, we love all comments and we hope you continue to read and comment on our blog.

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