CONSIGNED TO HISTORY?

The printed phone directory is well on its way to becoming a history book.

 Now that Verizon Communications has been granted government approval in several large American states to stop delivering white pages as a condition of service, technology is ending a tradition that dates back to New Haven, Conn. in 1878, just two years after inventor Alexander Graham Bell placed his first call.

 Canada was already ahead of the curve, as publisher Yellow Pages Group did not deliver new residential directories in Toronto last spring, and just 1,000 residents requested one, compared to the 1 million copies that used to be dropped off each year.

 Telephone companies are still technically obligated to make the directories available, although a request was filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to discontinue their publication. With mobile phone listings not appearing on paper, though, even those without home Internet access were drawing little benefit from a new annual book of numbers.

 Yellow Pages business listings have remained more practical, although the number of directories dispatched immediately to recycling bins led the company to institute a “Custom Delivery Program.” Residents in seven cities can remove their addresses from the distribution list, as all the paid listings are also available online and through mobile apps.

 But the publisher maintained this year that one in two Canadians still actively consult the print version.

 But the number continues to steeply decline, as American phone book usage plummeted from 25 per cent to 11 per cent between 2005 and 2008.

 Three years ago, online magazine Slate was wondering why the print directories were still around. However, this week, Fast Company published an item with the soothsaying headline “Die, Phone Book, Die.”

 The environmental blight of unwanted directories, especially in high-rise lobbies, hasn’t helped their cause. Seattle recently passed an ordinance that makes phone book litter illegal from publishers who refuse to pay recycling costs. The city estimated that the directories made up 2.7 per cent of all materials left in curbside boxes.

 There were two different business directories circulating in Canada prior to March, when the Yellow Pages bought its rival publisher Canpages. Yet, the deal wasn’t as much about killing fewer trees than consolidating digital advertisers.


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