SF Needs the Yellow Pages

TURN is joining with a broad coalition of San Franciscans to oppose an ordinance to stop free yellow pages distribution in San Francisco. Local yellow pages, printed on recycled paper, are a key source of information for local shopping and services, and are still used regularly by many residents of San Francisco.

For Immediate Release from TURN, The Utility Reform Network

A coalition of concerned labor union leaders, small businesses owners, Spanish-language, Chinese-language and LGBT publishers, consumers and industry groups today announced their opposition to a proposed ordinance that would effectively stop Yellow Pages distribution in San Francisco. The group is concerned that the move would put hundreds of San Francisco residents out of work, limit small businesses’ marketing, and hurt the city’s fragile economic future.

“The bill’s author has significantly undervalued the value that Yellow Pages delivers to the city of San Francisco,” said Neg Norton, president, Yellow Pages Association. “The industry launched a site at www.yellowpagesoptout.com that accomplishes the sponsor’s goals while protecting the small businesses and local workers who rely on Yellow Pages to support their families in this very difficult economy. San Francisco’s 115,000 small businesses generate $4.5 billion of revenue annually. That’s a big gamble for the city to take.”

The coalition is asking the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote no on the proposal, citing several concerns:

  • Stopping Yellow Pages distribution would crush small businesses’ ability to use print Yellow Pages to generate new customers and sales, putting storefronts and workers at risk. Many small businesses do not have an online presence or find that Internet advertising isn’t the only solution they need to drive traffic.
  • Directories oriented to targeted demographics–including Spanish-speaking, Chinese-speaking, and LGBT communities–would be limited in the distribution models available to them.
  • The business of publishing and distributing Yellow Pages employs thousands of people in and around San Francisco. Why put these jobs at risk during a period when unemployment has reached all-time highs?
  • Onerous opt-in requirements make the cost of home distribution nearly impossible for publishers, eliminating the availability of directories to anyone that wants them.
  • Lawmakers have based their opinions on incorrect information about the industry’s environmental impact, production processes, advertiser ROI and usage statistics.
  • The Board of Supervisors has not provided the public with information on potential tax and revenue losses to the city as a result of the legislation, including the decrease in recycling revenues from the city’s curbside recycling program, or the cost to taxpayers of a court battle over the Constitutionality of such law.
  • Publishers have a Constitutional right under the First Amendment to freely publish and distribute speech, something the City of San Francisco cannot choose to ignore. The government should not decide which forms of media have a role or value in society, or legislate against one form of print media, but not others.

Local Publishers & Labor Leaders Speak Out

“Our print Yellow Pages directory delivers business listings to Hispanic consumers in the Bay area,” said Emma Acero, sales manager (Oakland office), Seccion Amarilla USA. “There are many small businesses that cater primarily to Spanish-speaking customers and that rely on our directories to generate sales. We are concerned that the city’s plan does not take into account the high usage of print directories in certain ethnic communities in San Francisco.”

“Chinese Yellow Pages print directories provide a vital source of information to San Francisco residents who prefer to read and write in Chinese,” said Joseph Browning, president of Chinese Yellow Pages Co. “The print directories we deliver to several hundred distribution points are usually all picked up by consumers such that we do not have any left over. The proposed ordinance, which we do not support, would eliminate the ability of all San Francisco residents to access print directories if they want them.”

“Yellow Pages representatives work with owners of local small businesses throughout the year, to help them create marketing programs that yield results by making their phones ring and doors open,” said Sieg Fischer, publisher of the Valley Yellow Pages. “We know how small businesses work, and we know how to deliver customers to those small local businesses in a most cost-effective manner.”

“I am extremely concerned that San Francisco’s leaders are prepared to pass an ordinance that will negatively impact local small businesses without truly understanding the serious implications it has. Many local, small businesses will not survive without this very effective form of marketing their products and services, and their employees will join the ranks of the unemployed,” continued Fischer.

“We have no pride in a city that would deny small businesses the right to market themselves however they feel is best for their business,” said Erik Whedbee, CFO of Rainbow Pages, Inc., which distributes in San Francisco. “There is a misperception that everyone today finds businesses online and that simply isn’t true, especially if you’re a business that wants to reach a targeted audience, or a consumer who wants to support an LGBT-friendly business.”

“The proposed ordinance would effectively shut down every publisher in San Francisco–putting potentially hundreds of people out of work, not only in San Francisco, but across the state,” said Peter Pusateri, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “While we certainly respect the city’s effort to reduce waste, there are ways to accomplish that goal without legislating the layoff of hard-working Californians.”

“Consumers still place a very high value on the Yellow Pages,” said Regina Costa, telecommunications director, The Utility Reform Network (TURN). “Not all Californians, not even all San Franciscans, have the ability to go online for directory assistance. Even when they do, they may not be able to find information on specific businesses and services in their area, from healthcare to hardware. The proposed ordinance goes too far and will ultimately harm residents and businesses in San Francisco that depend on the Yellow Pages.”

“San Francisco’s economy is built on small business and many small businesses still rely on the Yellow Pages to reach potential customers,” said Steve Falk, president & CEO, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “While the Internet has grown, the Yellow Pages still serve an important role in keeping small businesses growing. An effective opt-out option for consumers is more desirable than hurting our small business community.”

Small Business Advisors Fear Loss of Business

“I have found that print Yellow Pages is the most effective source of advertising, and the print directories produce positive results for my business. It’s unfortunate that the city’s leaders are, in essence, saying that small business owners like me are not as smart and insightful about advertising as they are. The city’s leaders should not be legislating how small businesses choose to advertise, nor should they make assumptions that one form of advertising is better than the other based on no personal experience,” said Dina Kourumalos of Continental Appliance.

“Our law center primarily represents victims and family members of victims of physical elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes and care facilities for the elderly,” said Jay Renneisen, managing partner of the Nursing Home & Elder Abuse Law Center. “Most of our clients prefer a print directory and depend heavily on Yellow Pages for information on specific businesses, such as our law center. As such, the proposed ordinance would cut off a vital tool that provides access to our information, and in turn hurt our business and the elderly population we serve.”

Print Directories Face Uninformed Criticism in San Francisco

As some San Francisco lawmakers quickly dismiss the value of print directories and the sustainability efforts undertaken by publishers, the truth about print directory advertising and usage has been cast aside.

“The idea that the industry cuts down millions of trees is simply the product of someone’s creativity,” said Paul Gordon of Catalyst Paper USA. “The paper companies that supply publishers have gone to great lengths to make it unnecessary to use new trees, both for economic and environmental reasons.”

“We have always believed that if you don’t want a phone book, you shouldn’t have to get one, but the opt-in legislation introduced by the city is a dangerous and unconstitutional road for San Francisco,” said Larry Angove, president & CEO, Association of Directory Publishers.

“Thousands of San Francisco small businesses rely on their Yellow Pages advertising to attract business and generate sales from ready-to-buy consumers. We don’t think the city should unwisely put an end to a form of advertising that works for both businesses and consumers. With research showing that nearly 3 out of 5 San Francisco residents use Yellow Pages, we do not believe a system that puts a burden on the majority of people to opt-in is the wisest path.”