Alas, the poor phone book.
Once upon a time, it was the cornerstone of American connectivity, an indispensable resource people relied on to find pizza shops, plumbers, and the number of the cute girl in math class.
But now, when a new phone book lands on a homeowner’s doorstep, the ball is more often than not thrown in the recycling bin.
They can be used to press flowers, or as a booster seat or a door stop, but fewer and fewer phone books are used for what they were originally intended for, to look up phone numbers.
So why do phone books still appear on thousands of doorsteps in Southwestern Pennsylvania every year?
Current Pennsylvania Utilities Commission regulations require telephone companies in the Commonwealth to provide a White Pages telephone book to customers who request one – telephone companies are no longer required to send all residents a White Pages telephone book.
That requirement remains in effect until 2026. After that, PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said, the fate of the White Pages phone book is unknown.
With the Internet and a growing number of people abandoning landlines for mobiles that aren’t listed in phone books, the white pages are increasingly becoming a relic of history.
Said Steven Samara of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association, “There are people who don’t have a computer or who don’t have access to the Internet who use a phone book, but it’s increasingly rare that phone books are delivered.”
At Hickory Telephone Co., which has served thousands of customers in Hickory and surrounding communities since 1905, demand for White Pages phone books has dropped to fewer than 10 requests a year, according to Brian Jeffers, the firm’s chief executive.
“People have other options to search for phone numbers. Demands for physical phone books have dwindled to almost nothing,” Jeffers said.
Yellow Pages phone books are another story.
Yellow Pages directories are produced by third-party companies and are filled with ads that generate revenue for Yellow Pages publishers, Samara said.
Yellow Pages phone books target key demographics, such as older generations and rural audiences.
But the Internet has made it much easier for small businesses to target consumers directly, rather than spending on advertising in the Yellow Pages. A recent study showed that 97% of consumers went online to search for businesses.
“I remember that Yellow Pages advertising was an important decision I made every year. I would spend, at the time, what was a significant amount of our advertising budget on a quarter page ad. But it’s like a lot of things today with technology, that’s not the way to do it anymore,” said Tom Yakopin, owner of West Penn Life and Health. “Everything you want to find is online, so what does it matter? No one is using them anymore.”
Kerry Staley of Staley Tree Service has been advertising in the Yellow Pages for nearly half a century and says it has proven to be a sound investment.
“We still get calls from people who find us on the Yellow Pages, but we don’t track how many,” Staley said, noting that he keeps a White Pages phone book in his truck in case he finds himself in an area without internet. access and should find a phone number.
The first U.S. telephone directory was printed in 1878 in New Haven, Conn., on a piece of cardboard. He listed the numbers of 11 homes, 38 businesses and the police department.
By 1921, Manhattan had printed over a million copies of the phone book, and within five years, that number would grow to 6 million.
And, fun fact: in the mid-1950s at New York’s Grand Central Terminal, phone books had to be replaced with new ones every two days because so many people were tearing out the pages in the phone booths instead of writing down the numbers.
In 2008, one of the only surviving copies of the world’s first phone books was sold at auction for over $170,000.
The destruction of the phone book began on October 14, 2010, when regulators in New York approved Verizon’s request to stop the bulk printing of residential phone books.
Virginia regulators would make a similar requirement in 2011, marking the beginning of the end of the family favorite — and saving about 1,640 tons of paper.
“It’s much more environmentally friendly to look up phone numbers in a paperless method,” Samara said.
While phone books may be outdated, they provide a glimpse into the past for some genealogy and history buffs.
In 2015, for example, the Brooklyn Public Library digitized 107 years of city directories and phone books, covering 1956-1967 and enabling people to find Walt Whitman’s home address from the time he lived in Brooklyn, or to search for their home and find out who lived there a century ago.
And, others simply enjoy the nostalgia of the books, which were often ripped apart, worn, and written on until the next phone book came along.
“I miss the old phone books,” said Sandy Sabot of North Franklin Township. “People go online for businesses, but community phone books were so helpful in finding individuals and families.”
Note: You can opt out of a Yellow Pages phone book at the following website: https://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/, or by calling the number on the front of the Yellow Pages.