Are phone books disappearing?
February 6, 2019 4:15 PM   Subscribe

The librarian said they didn't have a phone book and "that's all online now." Is this common? Are phone books disappearing?

I was very surprised. I know a lot of people no longer have land lines. I don't have a land line anymore and that is why I don't have the White Pages. Back when I had a land line every year the phone company would deliver a White Pages and a Yellow Pages.

Many people still do have land lines. I assume they are in the phone book. Otherwise how will people know their address and number? I wanted to call a prson who is in her 80s. I figured she probably has a land line (and a cell phone) and I could get the number out of the book at the library.
posted by sitecoach to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Phone books were subsidised by the HUGE ad revenue from businesses. I've seen businesses that paid over 100K a year on an ad. They just aren't publishing them anymore. Some 3rd party companies are doing small ones.
posted by beccaj at 4:19 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Well, they are still delivered at my apartment building. (I do have a landline, although I am not that old.) But if she's listed, just call 411 and ask Information for the, uh, information.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:20 PM on February 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yellow pages still exist - here's a digital copy of the one for Seattle. In my experience, most people I know (including myself) aggressively opt opt of delivery and/or don't have a landline. However, occasionally you'll still see them. One of my previous employers a few years ago received dozens of copies... and then opted out.
posted by saeculorum at 4:23 PM on February 6, 2019

I'm 34 and have never (voluntarily) owned a phone book. I would be mildly surprised to find I even appeared in one. And if it got my address correct I'd be gobsmacked.

You get their address from the bank is the dark answer you probably weren't hoping for.
posted by East14thTaco at 4:24 PM on February 6, 2019

verizon stopped printing them a few years ago
posted by brujita at 4:29 PM on February 6, 2019

I'm pretty sure the librarian wasn't saying "the information doesn't exist" or "you can only contact people online", she was saying "this information is available online". Have you checked for the white pages online in your area?
posted by brainmouse at 4:37 PM on February 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

Central Indiana here. We still get two phone books every year. The regular “Yellow Pages” (aka: YP) and the competitor “Yellow Book.” They’re both radically thinner than they were in their heyday. We don’t have a landline, fwiw.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Chicago suburbs—just got my annual phone book for my city and surrounding areas delivered last week.
posted by bookmammal at 4:44 PM on February 6, 2019

Here in Williston, ND, we get a phone book, but many businesses no longer choose to be listed. This was a HUGE headache for me when we moved to town.
posted by epj at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2019

In my Southern Indiana life we still get phonebooks for the county that are a combined yellow and white pages.
In my Chicgao life they are either everywhere or nonexistent. Like you couldn't find one for love nor money and then there is literally a pallet of them in the building lobby free for the taking. I had a marketing friend say they are doing that to increase the circulation numbers and justify the ad costs.
I can't remember the last time I want or needed one for the city, though.
posted by Tchad at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2019

There's still a phone book in my hometown community, but it's absolutely tiny compared to what it once was. Many more areas combined, too, and yet it's shrunk to perhaps 5% of what it was. And yes, very few ads compared to say, the 90s and early 2000s.
posted by stormyteal at 6:02 PM on February 6, 2019

I can't remember the last time I saw a phone book - except for the ones that show up on my doorstep once a year, and sit there for several days, unwanted by anyone in my apartment building, until I take the initiative to put them in the trash.

Many people still do have land lines. I assume they are in the phone book. Otherwise how will people know their address and number?

Umm...that's all online now. Has been for, like, two decades. See

In short: yes, phone books still exist, but the industry seems to be hanging on by a thread.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:07 PM on February 6, 2019

Land line numbers tend not to change much. Ask the library if they have old phone books.
posted by theora55 at 8:20 PM on February 6, 2019

I have not found it with a quick search, but I have the nagging feeling that printing phone books was required by regulation. The white pages that is.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:31 PM on February 6, 2019

JohnnyGunn, according to this 2014 Vox article, you are correct — the white pages were state-required. However, that started to change in 2010, when Verizon got permission in three states to make the white pages opt-in only. As of the date of publication of the Vox article in 2014, it was up to 15 states. No idea what it is now.

And in answer to the OP: Yes, phone books are disappearing. You look up landline phone numbers online now (if you can’t get someone’s phone number by asking them — the preferred method). Search Google. Do not pay any money; if a site asks you to pay to see someone’s landline number, as (for example) does, try another site.

(It may be quicker and more reliable to ask a mutual contact for the person’s phone number, assuming you have any mutual contacts.)
posted by snowmentality at 8:58 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can still call 411 (or NNN-555-1212) for directory assistance, and from a landline it should get you the phone company's operator. From a cell phone you never know who that's going to get you (it's typically contracted out), what databases they will be using, or what it will cost (without reading your service contract).
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:43 PM on February 6, 2019

Maybe I am your librarian because I just recently told a patron that we didn’t have a phone book for the city they were asking for but they could search an online white pages site.
posted by amapolaroja at 1:09 AM on February 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

At some point here in Houston, they stopped delivering them, but I haven't done anything except throw them away for over 20 years.
posted by uberchet at 9:03 AM on February 7, 2019

I am a NJ librarian at the reference desk right now, and I would rather look up a number online than reach behind me and look them up in the yellow pages. Our most recent yellow pages are from 2014. We no longer have the white pages.

I use and if that doesn't work - which is rare - I go to ReferenceUSA through the library's database.
posted by lyssabee at 10:23 AM on February 7, 2019

Yes. This just happened in January in the UK.
posted by atlantica at 12:07 PM on February 7, 2019

They still exist in Australia but are very small and fairly useless. Most people don't get them. The personal one online is occasionally useful, the business one on online generally not.
posted by deadwax at 12:45 PM on February 7, 2019

« Older Setting prices for used household items for sale   |   How to not take advantage of your service sub Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.