How to stop delivery of telephone books


Like many of you (I suspect), I don’t use the paper telephone book. If I want to look something up, I go online. Yet every year I get a dozen different telephone books. I don’t like them because a telephone book sitting on my front porch screams, “Rob this house! Nobody’s home!” Besides, it’s a waste of paper.

So for the past few years I’ve been trying to stop delivery of all the telephone books. It’s harder than you think.

The first hurdle is figuring out what the “please take me off your mailing list” number is. Because they sure don’t advertise it.

I’ve discovered that the best way to get through to somebody who can take you off the list is to call the “How to order more copies of this wonderful telephone directory.”

Note: WorldPages added another wrinkle to the procedure. You see, they misprinted their own telephone number. Why anybody would voluntarily pay money to be listed by a telephone directory company that can’t even get their own phone number right is beyond me.

You have to be polite but firm when dealing with these people. Qwest is particularly tricky. I had called last year to stop delivery of all three of their phone books (they have three!), but in June another one showed up. I called them and they confirmed, “Yes, I see that we have a zero on your account, I don’t know what happened. Let me try again.”

Aside: Why does Qwest want my telephone number to stop delivery of my telephone book? They deliver the book to a house, not to a telephone.

Anyway, so that seems to keep the telephone book delivery gnomes at bay, until December, when yet another Qwest telephone book arrives at my doorstep. So I call again.

“Yes, we have you marked as ‘do not deliver’.”

“So why did I get one?”

“This wasn’t one of our standard phone books. This was a promotional phone book.”

Aha, so when you say “Do not deliver” it doesn’t actually mean, “Do not deliver.” It just means “Don’t deliver the one that I am specifically complaining about.” But there’s this double-secret phone book delivery list that you have to specifically ask to be removed from, and we’re not going to tell you about it until you ask.

“Please remove me from the promotional phone book delivery list as well.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. There is no way for us to enter that in our computers.” Always blame the computers. One response to “Our computer can’t do that” I haven’t yet resorted to is “Well, then I guess you’ll have to do it by hand.”)

“Who delivers the promotional phone books?”

“We contract that out to a local delivery company.”

“Can I talk to them?”

“Hang on a second.”

<wait>>

“Okay, I can fill out a form so you don’t receive promotional phone books either.” (Aha, so she is going to do it by hand.)

“Thank you. Good-bye.”

We’ll see how long this lasts. I predict May.

Comments (29)
  1. Tim Marman says:

    Or you can move to NYC and live in an apartment building.

    They just put the phone books in the lobby and you can optionally pick it up :)

  2. MilesArcher says:

    There are more important things to do with ones time than this. Recycle the books and be done with it.

  3. mike says:

    Why does Qwest want my telephone number to stop delivery of my telephone book?

    That’s your account number with them.

  4. Raymond Chen says:

    But I never opened an account with them. My local telephone company is Verizon.

    If they promise not to deliver the phone books in a manner that says "Rob this house!" I wouldn’t be quite so upset.

  5. Centaur says:

    I live in an apartment building and am trying to get “them” to stop delivering all the free newspaper to my mail box. For now, I only tried posting onto it a paper which reads, in a big readable font, something to the effect: “Advertisement newspapers, election campaign leaflets, holy letters ARE NOT WELCOME”. Apparently, “they” cannot read.

    And yes, a mailbox full of papers is interpreted as “Rob this apartment”.

  6. Roland Kaufmann says:

    In Norway we have little green stickers that read "No advertising", which is put on the mail box and serves as a cue not to put any unaddressed, anonymous leaflets and stuff like that into it. Although no one is obliged by law to follow it, social conventions dictate that anything that violates the owner’s desire will go straight into the fireplace, and is therefore mostly upheld.

    However, the phone directory catalog still manages to escape this convention…

  7. Centaur says:

    anything that violates the owner’s desire will go straight into the fireplace

    That would be nice, a daemon sitting on my mailbox, which would activate every time something came, automagically and correctly guess if I actually want it, and if not, move it to the garbage bin (and scold the postman). Alas, this is not possible…

  8. Unplug says:

    In Austria, everyone gets a little postcard which you just return without postage if you don’t want a new phonebook…

  9. McGroarty says:

    If you get another, call the local TV and radio stations. They love these kinds of stories for slow news days. (Conspiratorially: They might like putting the screws to a rival advertising medium as well.)

    As a bonus, by getting this into the media, chances are you can save a few trees (if you care to). Few have likely even considered the possibility of opting out of delivery, and you might wake them to this.

  10. Michael J. says:

    I’m with you 100% on this one Ray.

  11. Markus K says:

    IIRC in Germany they send you a postcard and you go with it to the nearest post office to pick up the book. So if you want one it is more inconvenient as you have to make the trip; if you don’t, no harm done.

  12. quanta says:

    The telco competitive landscape is so different up here!

    In Canada, we didn’t get so many telephone carriers after deregulation. For example, in Ontario and Quebec, we still have only one major incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC): Bell Canada. Out in BC and Alberta, the ILEC is Telus. The phonebook only appears once a year.

    Recently Telus sent out their own phonebook to Ontario/Quebec residents, and it caused a minor uproar here for the exact reasons Raymond pointed out above. Made it into the news. But it looks like we’ll be seeing two phonebooks nowadays. But I guess it could be worse!

    Centaur: Signs on mailboxes usually don’t work. When I was a paperboy, we were paid per each flyer delivered, and instructed to ignore "No Junk Mail" signs.

  13. Centaur says:

    I have been thinking, and came to an idea. Could one post on one’s box some kind of an agreement, the kind that we see when installing software? :) “By depositing unwanted mail in this box, you (the Sender) agree that…” and then sue every sender you don’t like. Would this work in your countries? (As I’m pretty sure in Russia it wouldn’t.)

  14. Steve says:

    Who cares, just throw it away if you do not want it. It is just a phone book.

  15. Raymond Chen says:

    If they didn’t leave it out in the open where everybody can see, then it wouldn’t bother me as much.

  16. Kevin says:

    I know how annoying this is. I called AOL 4 times to tell them to stop sending me their CDs, but they don’t seem to get the point.

  17. Mr. Fuzzy Wuggums says:

    Never tried stopping the phone books in Atlanta (I have a mother-in-law outside the city and she takes them).

    The wierd thing with BS is with listings. We actually have to pay to be unlisted. I thought it would cost more in ink and paper to be listed. Guess not.

    Anyway, they do allow you to change your name. So, instead of paying to unlist myself, say hello to Mr. Fuzzy Wuggums! (I guess Mr. Fuzzy Wuggums will need to register on the Do Not Call List)

  18. swampfox says:

    If I don’t want it, I mark it "Return to Sender"…this costs the company return postage; the mail can also pile up in their bin, or they can send an employee to the post office to pick it up.

    I am not sure how effective this is for stopping mail, but it made me feel better!

  19. Raymond Chen says:

    That doesn’t work because the phone books are not mailed; they are dropped on my doorstep by a delivery truck. The Post Office won’t "return to sender" something they never delivered in the first place.

  20. The book person says:

    This one is from one of those phone book delivery people you must remember that your phone book is gonna get delivered no matter what you ask for its like that with any book i deliver these things in the state of Ohio at 10 below for 15 cts per book this is how people maka a living its a job it may suck but better than nothing if you dont want the book throw it in your trash or recycle bin

  21. Aaron says:

    I managed to get the local paper to stop putting their promotional free papers on my front lawn (after literally yelling and screaming at a customer service agent), but I have been unsuccessful at having them stop delivering the advertising-only pamphlets in my mail box and those incredibly environmentally-unfriendly phone books. There has got to be a way. I just chased down the Verizon people, because I just happened to be home while they were delivering the phone books. I made them take it back. They weren’t happy. The environment was though. Screw Verizon.

  22. Another book delivery person says:

    I too have delivered the telephone books on occasion. So everyone knows, there is absolutely NO incentive for the phone companies to stop delivering the phone books. The delivery contract is typically sold to a distribution company, and it is this company who hires individuals to deliver the phone books. These individuals are paid for each book they deliver (as someone else said, usually about .15 a book), and so it is in their best interest to deliver as many books as possible. The delivery company supplies the delivery people with a range of addresses for a particular street (and telephone numbers associated with known addresses). The delivery people are to deliver books to EVERY address in the range, not just the addresses on the list. It may very well be the case that the addresses NOT on the list are the ones who have opted to be removed from the list. But given that the delivery person makes more money the more books are delivered, you’re going to get a book!

  23. Jesso says:

    I too once delivered phone books and made good money doing it. As previous posters have said, I got paid by the book, but I only delivered to businesses. I think if someone doesn’t want the blasted book there should be a way for them to not get the book, but it looks like there’s NOT a way. So, I guess… just recycle it. Get home early during Phonebook Delivery Season to make sure it sits on your stoop saying "rob me" for as short a time as possible.

  24. yet another phone book delivery person says:

    I’ve also worked for a phone book delivery company. You can request to be put on a phone book refusal list and you will likely be placed on it. The problem is that on occasion the independant contractor delivery person still might deliver it. On our routing we will highlight specific residents that don’t desire a book and put in bold letters next to it " do not deliver". But they will still get dropped off a book on occasion. So Ray if you keep calling in and saying you don’t want the book it should help a little but not completly. Also in regards to placing the book in a conspicuous location.. Would you rather have a delivery person sneaking around to the back of your house to drop off a book?

  25. Dan Ross says:

    I don’t really have anything educational to add, just that I find this topic very amuzing and interesting to read. It is a waste of paper, just never really thought about NOT having it delivered. Good luck with your quest!

  26. Circulation manager says:

    Is this guys life really this pathetic, that he has nothing else to do but bitch aobut phone books. I think you really need to get out of the house more. Its a phone book, its free, why not just appreciate it and quit bitching. If you dont want it throw it away. Oh im sorry, thats right, it could destroy the enviroment. Do us all a favor and take the next book you receive and bash out your brains so we dont have to read these idiotic comments!!!

  27. Dee says:

    Just the other day I had a conversation with the telephone book rep about not wanting their book delivered. She didn’t offer any excuses, just a flat refusal to take me off their list (you should know that I get 3 different phone books from 3 different carriers because I live on a "border"). While I don’t have objections to having 1 book delivered, I DONT NEED 3! The rep actually told me that their advertisers pay to have the book delivered to my home, so I didn’t have any choice! When I said I was willing to pay to have it not delivered to my home she was stunned speechless. Unfortunately, I did not get the end result I desired – she wouldn’t give a quote on what the rate was to stop unwanted deliveries!

  28. Raymond Chen says:

    Commenting on this entry has been closed.

Comments are closed.