A new website is giving Americans a way to say "no thanks" to deliveries of Yellow Pages phone books.
Starting today, the Yellow Pages Association has set up a one-stop shop, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, where people can log on and opt out.
Since launching at midnight, the site has slowed to a crawl, apparently due to a surge of web traffic from interested consumers.
"It's the solution that the marketplace has been asking for," said Neg Norton, president of the Yellow Pages Association. "It's a great win for consumers. It's a great win for our industry. It's a win for the environmentalists."
Before, consumers had to contact individual Yellow Pages publishers to opt out of phone delivery, a complex task considering that a single household can receive directories from four or more publishers. The new site links together information from 158 different publishers across the country.
Under the new system, users just type in their ZIP codes, see images of the phone books they receive and choose which business directories they want delivered to their front doors.
"You can simply opt out of all directories through one mass click, as well," Norton said, adding that information collected through the site is used only to manage deliveries and is not sold to businesses.
The site follows a string of successful opt-out initiatives, from recently-proposed "Do Not Track" legislation for web browsing to the "Do Not Call" registry for telemarketers introduced in 2007. According to the federal government, over 191 million numbers were entered in the "Do Not Call" database in its first three years.
The Yellow Pages Association began working on its site back in October 2010, but the launch comes as business directories are under assault in some parts of the country.
Just today in San Francisco, a city supervisor is proposing a plan to ban unsolicited distribution of phone books and fine publishers up to $500 for unwanted deliveries. In Seattle, the city council has also passed measures to discourage unwanted phone books.
The Yellow Pages Association is opposed to the proposals in both cities, but it says that phone book publishers have no incentive to make deliveries to people who don't want them.
As people have turned to the Internet to look for information on local businesses, Yellow Pages publishers have adapted, providing online listings and services to help companies optimize their web pages for search engines.
But while many now prefer to go online, the Yellow Pages Association says that most Americans still consult paper directories from time to time.
"It's certainly not a sophisticated or sexy medium, but most people keep it in the kitchen drawer," Norton said.