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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dan Savage’s Review of the Phone Book Inspires Angry Letter from Phone Book Publisher

posted by on August 30 at 12:55 PM


In honor of the fine weather we’re having, this week’s book section is full of recommendations from Stranger staffers of great beach reads. But we can’t do something like that with a straight face, can’t participate in the cliche that a “beach read” has to be a grocery-store thriller—because it doesn’t!—so we’ve recommended a bunch of very heavy books: Proust, Hegel, de Tocqueville, Balzac, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and the phone book. The reviewer of the phone book? Dan Savage. The reaction from phone book publisher Ken Clark? Anger, righteousness, disbelief.

Ken Clarks letter to the editor:

I wanted to congratulate Mr. Savage on a truly remarkable review of the new Dex phone books which were just delivered to his doorstep.

In his sparkling commentary he managed to offend only a half a dozen different groups and show his true grasp of the English language by eloquently mixing in several obscenities to his tirade. I just hope his parents haven’t spent a significant portion of their life savings to invest in putting him through college so he could have a degree in journalism as a background to such a fine discourse.

But most importantly is that he ignored some very key facts, or did he just not bother to find out?

• Those books that he is so annoyed about where referenced over 15 billion times last year by US adults (maybe that’s the issue—referenced by adults). And that’s just the print versions. 90% of all adults reference them at least once a year, 75% in a typical month, and 50+% on average month. How about on average 1.4X each week?

• The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the broadband market is about tapped out. There will always be a good percentage of the population that will never have access to the industry’s Internet products. Barely more than 50% of households in the U.S. (about 56 million homes), currently subscribe to a high-speed Internet service. An additional 21 million households still use dial-up connections (yes, you read that right—dial-up connections).

• But his most egregious oversight was in considering who is going to get all that neat stuff that is in those print books on to the Net so his .28 second search of Google will actually yield the results he expects??? With 40% of small businesses still without websites, it’s going be that same Yellow Pages sales rep who can provide a complete portfolio of local search and Internet based products to help that small businesses get on the Net.

But I am assuming that neither you or Mr. Savage want to hear any of that, do you??

RSS icon Comments


Wow, Ken REALLY didn't like that review Dan did. Ken, don't mess with Dan, you'll loose. My main complaint with the drop off of the phone books...why don't they ask if I actually WANT one? Every time there's a huge distribution of those things I see STACKS at recycling centers and in trash bins. They'd save a lot of money (not to mention the environmental impact) if they would ask if you wanted the damn things first.

Posted by Shawn | August 30, 2007 1:11 PM

Hey, A. Birch Steen works for the phone book company!

Posted by Providence | August 30, 2007 1:11 PM

wtf is that dooooooosh bag talking about? phone books are lame and antiquated. the minute a new one hits my front porch, i grab it and immediately place it in the recycle bin. duh!

Posted by jameyb | August 30, 2007 1:12 PM

Ken tried to fuck me in a bathroom. True story.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 30, 2007 1:18 PM

Finally got a chance this summer to read the new Hitchens, Vidal's Point-to-Point Navigation, and Dan's The Commitment. All excellent summer reads, by the way, if not in the trashy sense then certainly in the entertaining one. Mighty fine!

I'm so glad TV is shittier than usual from April until October. My mind says, "Thank you."

Posted by Bauhaus | August 30, 2007 1:18 PM


Posted by Lake | August 30, 2007 1:20 PM

I like Zola's "Nana" for a fun read. She's a whore with a heart of brass.

Like some people I could name.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | August 30, 2007 1:20 PM

"Bitter, party of one?"

Posted by MyDogBen | August 30, 2007 1:21 PM

Poor Ken, it must be depressing to have to spend every day watching your job sink ever deeper into irrelevency.

Oh, and jameyb, you probably wouldn't be surprised, but the people who's job it is to actually deliver these tree-killers do exactly that as well.

About a zillion years ago, I briefly had a job delivering phone books, and I figured out the routine pretty quick: 1.) find all the office complexes on your route and leave 2 - 3 times the required number of books based on business occupancy; 2.) deliver residential books, one set per household for about two hours of your scheduled time; 3.) dispose of the remainder in a convenient garbage dumpster (this being in the days before paper recycling was mandatory); 4.) lather, rinse, repeat.

By the time the phone company figured out what you'd done, you'd already cashed their measely checks and moved on to a more lucrative job.

Posted by COMTE | August 30, 2007 1:22 PM

It must be difficult to pour your heart into a work of art like that, only to have it callously panned by philistines.

Posted by Sean | August 30, 2007 1:25 PM

Hey Moron...
"• But his most egregious oversight was in considering who is going to get all that neat stuff that is in those print books on to the Net so his .28 second search of Google will actually yield the results he expects??? With 40% of small businesses still without websites,"

You don't need a website to be on the web, that is why google is so great. I wonder if phone book companies can be fined or sued for wasting precious space in landfills. Can you recycle a phone book? How much waste is created by these companies a year.

Posted by Thom | August 30, 2007 1:26 PM

i actually get angry when i see phonebooks. i hate when they show up on my door, and they usually sit there for a month or so as i keep thinking that if i don't touch it they will come and take it back. seriously, someone needs to start a 'ban the (phone) book' campaign along with styrofoam and plastic bags.

Posted by and | August 30, 2007 1:27 PM

Did he really think a review of the phone book was serious? This guy needs to take a reality check.

Posted by Rachel | August 30, 2007 1:32 PM

I haven't used a phone book in years. I'm only reminded of them when I have to take them out to the curb.

Posted by art hinderman | August 30, 2007 1:34 PM

I get angry too, but not at phone books. Just the bogus ones put out by Verizon, which are completely worthless. The Qwest book, the REAL yellow pages, is still pretty damn useful.

Online searching works some of the time, but not always. It's no fun looking through pages of results about businesses that are closed, or idiotic "reviews" by people who shouldn't be allowed to use the internets at all, to find the one thing you need.

And I've been burned a half-dozen times in the past month alone by Google Maps, with woefully bad addresses, lying maps, and other stupid mistakes of the type that are endemic to automatically mined data, as opposed to the businesses themselves, who can usually manage to get their own name right.

You'd also be surprised how many businesses have no web presence at all. Half? Possibly. It's a lot more than you think.

And, and, and: the online version "qwestdex", or whatever the fuck it's called now, BLOWS MASSIVE CHUNKS for several reasons, including their habit of selling "preferred" ads to companies that are nowhere near here.

Posted by Fnarf | August 30, 2007 1:37 PM

Ken is partly correct.

While the traditional paper phone book is quickly becoming obsolete in the hipster internet world, there are a lot of people who are not particularly internet savvy, or don't have access. My parents still use the phone book as much as they did 20 years ago. They'll probably continue to use traditional phone books as long as they keep appearing on their doorstep once a year.

But Ken, seriously, probably half or more of your precious phone books get tossed or recycled without ever being cracked. That is a lot of dead trees for nothing. Time to catch up to reality. Dex needs to figure out a new distribution system. Figure out how to get paper phone books to the people who want them without deforesting half the state printing all those fucking books that people don't want. Opening one of those tomes once a year does not justify printing them.

And quit with the bitter act. Your revenue relies on justifying your fees to businesses. You justify your fees by telling them how many bazzilion phone books you print and distribute (without mentioning that half of them get tossed). If you were truthful about your real distribution, you couldn't justify your fees. You have a financial incentive to print and distribute as many phone books as you can crank off the presses, regardless of what a waste it is. Environmentally, that is a shitty business model.

Posted by SDA in SEA | August 30, 2007 1:39 PM

I know gaggles of crusties who look forward to this job every year. They go pick up a truckload of phonebooks and a list and then just dump the frig out of them & get drunk & come back for more. They don't give a fuck about how many you need and neither do their employers, they are told that they will have random monitoring to make sure they don't all go straight to the recycling bin but it's made very clear that they just need to get rid of them. phonebooks are bullshit and need to stop.

Posted by pgc | August 30, 2007 1:40 PM

Is there some sort of schedule posted of when the various phone books get delivered? Because I alway mean to post a sign on my door saying that I don't want one, but they always show up by surprise. I throw the whole pile of them right into the recycling bin. What a fucking waste.

Posted by JC | August 30, 2007 1:42 PM

Yeah, but Fnarf, in what case will I be able to find information in a phone book that I cannot find on the web? A number will always be available online before a new phone book is printed.

I don't think they should be BANNED, of course (my internet was down for three days last week, and I still needed to order a pizza. Thanks, Dex!).

Posted by jeff | August 30, 2007 1:45 PM

I keep a phone book around, in case the internets come unstrung and we have to be cave dwellers. Then I'll be able to call for a pizza from my cave.

Weed for lunch again. Sorry.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | August 30, 2007 1:48 PM

And to all of you with crustiefriends who take phone book delivery routes and dump all the books, will you tell them to take my route, because I have received THREE PHONE BOOKS THIS YEAR ALONE.

Posted by jeff | August 30, 2007 1:48 PM

Can The Stranger supply me with Mr. Clarks' address? I've got 9.5lbs of phone books (yes, I weighed them) sitting on my porch, that I didn't ask for, don't have a use for and don't want. It would be worth the cost of mailing them back to Mr. Clarks to get my point across.

Posted by David In Wedgwood | August 30, 2007 1:48 PM

And I wonder, did this defender of the phone book use paper and an envelope to deliver his "letter" or was it an e-mail?

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | August 30, 2007 1:49 PM

Phone book pages clean windows pretty damn well, but so do any of the thousands of untouched copies of the Weekly. With the Weekly I don't have to rip the pages out, either. Works wonders.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 30, 2007 1:55 PM

yeah, the phone book can be useful... and so is the most of the information from the 4 year old phone book at my house. the fact remains, there should be some sort of opt-out offer from the phone company. honestly, it's a matter of environmental and social responsibility.

Posted by rob | August 30, 2007 2:00 PM

Get the public intern on this!

There's probably two dozen phone books in my apartment lobby that have been sitting there for 3+ weeks. Can he dump them at the Verizon/Dex/MaBell door for me?

Posted by HEY! | August 30, 2007 2:02 PM

Yes, a perfect job for the public intern.

Posted by rob | August 30, 2007 2:05 PM

You'd think if he could take the time to draft such a fine letter, it could at least make sense...

"• Those books that he is so annoyed about where referenced over 15 billion times last year by US adults..."

Am I weird or is that a misspelling of "were?"

Posted by huh? | August 30, 2007 2:09 PM

Can we all just deliver our extra phone books to the Stranger offices and then Public Intern can deliver them all together to the Qwest building next to Pacific Place on Pine? I belive Dex is on the 16th floor.

Posted by Morgan | August 30, 2007 2:27 PM

I'm with everyone else here who takes phone books directly from my doorstep to the recycling bin. I also stopped using about two years ago. I just use Google, like everyone else under 30. I've yet to have a problem finding any business I want, and honestly, I don't think I ever look up individuals any longer. That would be pointless, since almost everyone I care to contact socially has a cell phone and only a cell phone.

Now, he's probably right that there are 21 million households that still use dial up. My parents do, but they're 60 and 62. I have a feeling that the majority of those 21 million households are the same, and I really, truly, sincerely doubt that most industries want to hitch their wagons to that demographic.

Posted by Gitai | August 30, 2007 2:34 PM

as a poor college student i used pages from bellingham's plaid book as a convenient plate for my daily toast requirements. nothing better when your roommates forgot to do the dishes for the last month and a half

Posted by vooodooo84 | August 30, 2007 2:35 PM

wow, pretty harsh words from a heartless tree killer...

Posted by michael strangeways | August 30, 2007 2:48 PM

I think Ken's letter is a joke. It only takes one tiny little click on TheStranger's webpage to find out who Dan Savage's editor is and address the damned letter properly.

Posted by amy! | August 30, 2007 2:52 PM

I agree. Where's the Public Intern???

Posted by David In Wedgwood | August 30, 2007 3:10 PM

Jeff, there have been at least a dozen occasions in the past year when I've given up on an online search and gone to the yellow page. There's more to life than finding the phone number of Pony. Sometimes you don't know the NAME of the business you want, or even if it exists. the yellow pages (or any paper book) are also a lot faster to flip through than google pages.

Posted by Fnarf | August 30, 2007 3:23 PM


That's where & come in real handy. I don't think I've had to use a phone book, except perhaps at a payphone or a non-internet savvy relative's home since about 1993.

Posted by COMTE | August 30, 2007 3:42 PM

"...[H]is most egregious oversight was in considering who is going to get all that neat stuff that is in those print books on to the Net..."

What a load of bullshit. Can Clarks claim that the Dex phone books are typeset by hand with a straight face? Nearly every modern book today is in electronic form before being printed. It's called data conversion, Ken. I could do it with a Dex CD. Books don't start as paper anymore, they start as data.

"With 40% of small businesses still without websites"

...there ought to be a huge market for setting them up with ones, so that they can get with the 21st Century, because they're going to suffer without that exposure, if they don't already.

Posted by K | August 30, 2007 3:43 PM

If it weren't for phonebooks, all four Sarah Connors would still be alive.

Posted by CRo | August 30, 2007 4:22 PM


This is true.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 30, 2007 4:42 PM

Hahah #38

Posted by mr. ryan | August 30, 2007 4:58 PM

Why am I suddenly picturing Navin R. Johnson dashing behind the oilcans as a hailstorm of bullets strikes them, using his White Pages as a shield?

"I'm SOMEBODY! I'm in the PHONE BOOK!"

Posted by Geni | August 30, 2007 5:43 PM

"With 40% of small businesses still without websites"

...Who needs to call the corner market, though? "Hi there. Haven't run out of cigarettes today, have you? Okay, I'll be down later..."

Posted by Justin | August 30, 2007 7:49 PM

i like how he tries to attack dan's linguistic skills and then misspells "were" in his first bulleted point.
pedanticism aside, guy needs a little ganja as a chill-the-fuck-out cure-all.

Posted by frequency ass bandit | August 30, 2007 8:46 PM

aren't you all a little late on beach season... but always right on time with bitch session.

Posted by come again? | August 30, 2007 11:19 PM

I like the graphic with the little puppy reading! How cute!

Posted by Kristin Bell | August 30, 2007 11:43 PM

Hey, A. Birch Steen works for the phone book company!

Posted by GPHONE | August 31, 2007 1:17 AM

What is with all the phone book hatred? I used the phone book this afternoon to order food for a co-worker and me.

I would have to wait in line forever for our order without the phone book.

Everything was ready and tasty for us without having to wait thanks to the phone book.

Neither of us have cellphones, so we don't remember phone numbers off of our heads.

Thank you for phone books, please don't stop!

To all of you sanctimonious cellphone users... FUCK YOU!!!

Posted by lawrence clark | August 31, 2007 2:27 AM

Oh, yeah...Internet at work? What planet do you live on, Dan? I can look up a phone number faster in person (with a phone book) than you can with your cellphone, or the internet. Bet me.

Posted by lawrence clark | August 31, 2007 2:35 AM

Public! Intern! Public! Intern!

My books (trees) are still sitting on my steps in their plastic bag (oil) because my lazy ass doesn't feel like picking up the now-spider-infested bag and opening it to remove and recycle the books and trash the bag. Tragic, all of it.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | August 31, 2007 8:34 AM

Glad that phone book thing is working out for you. Your co-worker surely must have appreciated your efforts and I hope that your food was tasty.

The rest of us sanctimonious fuckers want to be able to at least refuse a copy (or in many cases, multiple copies) of the phone book. It is something that we never use. Distributing such a large tome to so many people who just dump them in the bin is incredibly wasteful. We find this waste of resources upsetting, much like you do when waiting "forever" in a line.


Posted by JC | August 31, 2007 10:08 AM

I wonder what percentage of the phone book company's circulation numbers are based on books going straight into the trash? In other areas of the publishing business, pushing your rates up based on landfill is a BIG no-no.

Can you imagine what kind of weekly numbers the Stranger could charge for if it were distributed by leaving piles of 20 on the doorstep of every building in Seattle, its unused copies never picked up?

I think phone books can be useful on occasion, and I'd like to see a system where they first come a leave a notice at residences asking something like "Check Yes or No if you'd like a phone book delivered", then when they return, the appropriate number of books are left, or they could just do mass mailers of a number you can call to get one.

If they want to keep wasting paper by carpet bombing whole cities with their publication, maybe it's time the Audit Burea took a look at the circulation numbers they purport.

Posted by Dougsf | August 31, 2007 1:15 PM

I think 51 has got it... Dex doesn't want to admit that they are circulating too many phonebooks because it would cut into their precious Yellow Pages advertising revenue, which costs a shiload and is pretty inefficient compared to the internet.

Posted by rob | August 31, 2007 2:54 PM

How about if they only deliver to Qwest customers?

Posted by johnEbravo | September 2, 2007 7:09 AM

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