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Thursday, January 17, 2008

But they promised no heavy lifting

By Dick Hirsch

How is it that with a declining population, coupled with the downsizing or departure of many businesses, the telephone directories keep getting bigger?

No, I haven’t been losing any sleep as a result of my concern over what appears to be an unbalanced relationship, but it does trouble me each time I open a directory. Am I the only one who has wondered about their size?

As the new year begins, that remains the nagging question, a puzzle that continues to defy solution. I thought that through independent research and interrogation of various suspects, I would find the answer last year, but I made no worthwhile progress. This is an elusive issue and it penetrates to the core of local affairs. It demands an answer, yet it seems to be a question many regard as either unimportant or unfathomable.

I quit making new year resolutions some time ago, but I am serious when I make this pledge: I am determined to find an answer to this question in 2008. Furthermore, I am soliciting the help of inquisitive readers by going public with the question at this early date. Maybe that is what this question needs, a public airing. Until now, telecommunications leaders, as well as public officials and business leaders, have refrained from trying to stimulate any official inquiry, perhaps fearing it would reflect on the status of the community.

Logic would seem to dictate that with a smaller population in the area covered by the telephone book, the book would shrink, right? Am I missing something? If you detect faulty reasoning here, speak right up. Fewer people should mean fewer listings and fewer listings should fit in fewer pages. A rational claim might be that the size of the phone book is directly proportional to the population involved. I’ve been in towns like Arco, Idaho, and Moab, Utah, where the phone books are useful but dinky, reflecting the population. But it doesn’t seem to work that way in Buffalo. So what’s the reason?

Some people tell me it is the coupons. That’s ridiculous. Yes, there are pizza, carpet cleaner, oil change and plumbing coupons, along with a substantial variety of other savings opportunities, but they don’t add much bulk to the books.

Of course, the directories have endeavored to become encyclopedic reference sources in recent years, with area maps and seating charts of public arenas, ZIP codes, and background articles about the community, but that material really doesn’t add up to much weight, either.

As you can see, I’m troubled by this misshapen relationship between population and phone book. I sometimes wonder how many trees it takes to provide the paper for these directories. I don’t want to minimize the importance of the phone book. It remains an essential reference at home or office.

I delayed writing this until the arrival of the second book the other day, delivered by two people from Verizon. Years ago, one person could do that job, but now, with phone books as heavy as they have become, two people showed up at my office, which is on the second floor. One person lugged the books up the stairs, while the other person handled the transaction, which involved asking me to sign a receipt. They apparently take turns doing the heavy lifting.

“Yes, you’ve got to be in pretty good shape to carry these around,” the delivery man agreed.

The other book, known as The Talking Phone Book, had arrived about three weeks earlier. One of the corporate goals of the publishers of that book has always been to get it delivered early, before Verizon, in the hope that recipients will adopt it and reject or ignore the other when it arrives. They both contain the same listing information.

The books have another quality in common. They are cumbersome and unwieldy. Verizon, at a shade under 6.5 pounds, this year outweighs its competitor by two or three ounces, according to my bathroom scale, and is somewhat thicker, measuring 3.5 inches. Thus, if you want to build up your upper body and don’t wish to invest in a set of weights with which to do regular curls, just choose either phone book and begin your workouts. Occasional routine lifting to check numbers will do nothing for your biceps.

I’ll continue seeking an answer. For now, I’ll put the blame on the advertising salespersons for each publisher, who are all determined to outsell the competition. You can’t really criticize them for that, can you?


At 6:11 PM, Blogger cross country said...

What you don't realize is that in a time where there may be less businesses, and the overall pie may be shrinking, each business wants to grab their share. To do this, advertisers get more aggressive with larger ads. And yes, the sales people are doing a very good job at maximizing their opportunities. Good luck with the lifting.


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