Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seattle introduces opt-out for Yellow Pages

Seattle city seems to have missed the memo.   Independent Yellow Pages are putting together a national registry for opt out.  Every book that gets thrown into a dumpster is wasted printing cost for them.  In an era of decline resources and an economy in recession, they will take every cost-saving measure they can.

So with an industry solution, paid for by the Yellow Pages industry, why would Seattle go to the expense of setting up a competing registry?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for competition where it benefits society.  Where’s the benefit here?

It’s certainly not about saving the environment.  Yellow Pages are made almost exclusively from recycled paper and wood chips.  The glue and ink is biodegradable.  Compared with the amount of junk mail and unsolicited catalogues we get every year, potential wastage is quite small.

When I first heard that the Yellow Pages business model was being labeled unsustainable, despite industry efforts, I was curious.  I felt sure I received more junk mail than Yellow Pages books - we get three Yellow Pages delivered to our door, AT&T’s book, Yellow Book, and the Valley Yellow Pages.

For one year I saved every piece of junk mail and unsolicited catalogue I could, throwing them into a box.  After one year, I weighed all this junk mail.  It weighed in at 75 lbs – compared to 5 lbs for the phone book.   Don’t believe me?  Here’s a photo:

One year's worth of junk mail!

So if environment was the issue, the city would be tackling junk mail as well.  It’s unsolicited and often even more unwanted than a telephone directory.  The offers are only good for a day or two and there’s another coming next week on “junk mail day.”    So if wastefulness is not the issue, what could be Seattle City’s motive?  Maybe money?

$ 0.14 for every book delivered
$ 148 per ton of books to be recycled
$ 100 (for now) license fee to operate a Yellow Pages in the city
(Taken from on-line research, not the bill itself.  E.A.O.E.)
Based on the figures from Seattle Public Utilities, detailed on this blog, the delivery fee will raise $ 280,000 and the recycling fee $ 350,000.  For now - as city revenues decline I expect these taxes, like many others, to rise.

A tax by any other name is still a tax.  This is a hidden tax on every small business in the city that is listed in the Yellow Pages.  Since Yellow Pages list every business for free, both in the classified yellow section and the alphabetical white business section, even that service to the community is now taxed.

A foolish move on the part of the city.  Locally delivered Yellow Pages helps keep money in the local community.  By giving a competitive advantage to online over local print, the city is driving shopping patterns online, where consumers often buy from out of state in the hope of avoiding sales tax.    

This is all about revenue raising.  Hopefully, the Association of Directory Publishers will challenge this in the courts before more cities jump on this tax-raising bandwagon.  


  1. This is the point that really gets me:

    "By giving a competitive advantage to online over local print, the city is driving shopping patterns online, where consumers often buy from out of state in the hope of avoiding sales tax."

    Too true.

  2. Online shopping is outsourcing on an individual scale. You get a slightly better price by going online because someone, somewhere, has figured out to do it cheaper. It may be lower wages, lower local taxes, or economies of scale with large online companies.

    Either way, the individual saves a small amount at the expense of the local community. It often saves taxes as well since most people don't declare it on tax returns, it's too complex.

    All attempts to regulate internet commerce face still resistance from those who sell online. That includes the big players in the field, who can afford to lobby effectively.


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