Paper directories and phone books are obsolete. Yet, companies like Yell and BT continue to distribute tens of millions of directories to households and businesses. It's a colossal waste that can – and should – be stopped.
We all know the story. A long time ago people would consult paper directories to find phone numbers of other people and local businesses. Then we got the World Wide Wonderweb and phone books became as outdated as floppy disks and audio cassettes. The companies producing the wasteful books know this and the industry is slowly dying. Thomson Local, for instance, stopped printing its directory in 2016. The two remaining offenders will no doubt follow.
Destroying forests to deliver tens of millions of unsolicited phone books is no longer justified. I'm not saying paper directories should be banned but it's difficult to see why phone books still need to be delivered door-to-door. As things stand, though, the onus to stop this waste is on you.
The two main paper directories in the UK – the Yellow Pages and BT Phone Book – can be cancelled. To do so, you need to contact the offenders:
- Yellow Pages
Phone 0800 671 444 or use this online contact form.
- BT Phone Book
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0800 833 400.
To opt out of other directories, simple call the customer services number (usually printed on the cover). If the directory is addressed rather than unaddressed you should the sender a data protection notice.
Does it work?
Good question. The answer seems be 'no'. I've been opted out of received the Yellow Pages and BT Phone Book since 2009, and I've received a copy of both the Yellow Pages and BT Phone Books almost every year. Of course, this is my personal experience. Don't let it deter you from stopping unsolicited phone books.
What to do if they ignore my opt-out?
Contacting directory publishers when you continue to receive phone books after opting out is futile. They'll say "sorry" and suggest you recycle the book, after which nothing changes. If they fail to respect your opt-out request I suggest you stick the book in an unstamped envelope and return it to the offender:
One Reading Central
BT Correspondence Centre
Opt-out schemes for unsolicited phone books suffer from the same deficiencies as opt-out schemes for junk mail; they're poorly advertised and not as effective as they should be. To be fair, things have improved a little in recent years. Until 2011 the Data Publishers Association insisted there was no need to advertise the existence of opt-out schemes for phone books because few people were signing up to them; a classic example of a circular argument indeed. Information about opting out is now included in phone books, albeit in the mouse print. Apart from that small step forward it's business as usual for directory publishers. There's no denying that the industry is still determined to keep as quiet as possible about cancelling unwanted phone book until the bitter end.
The reason why companies like Yell don't want you to opt out is straightforward enough. Publishers are worried that lower circulation numbers will make their books even more irrelevant than they already are and it opens the door to what they really dread; demands for an opt in regime. The first fear is irrational; one of the reasons why paper directories can't complete with online services is that the books are so poorly targeted. Why would advertisers want to pay for an ad in a book that most people chuck in the recycling bin the moment it arrives? Encouraging people to opt out would actually make phone books better targeted, and therefore more attractive to potential advertisers.
The fear that the Daily Mail will start demanding an opt-in system for unsolicited phone books is probably the main reason why publishers want to keep quiet about the whole thing. They're well-aware that an opt-in regime makes sense; it would ensure that only people who want a phone book get one. They're hoping that by publishing some information about opting out in the small print is enough to convince the public that they're responsible companies.
Which is exactly why you should opt out. The more people opt out, the more likely it is that directory publishers will want to set up a system that works for both the industry and 'consumers' (I prefer the term 'people').