Postcode Finders, Facebook & Google: Is The Paper Phonebook Dead?

Phonebook replaced by Internet

With the advent of the internet has come a revolution in how we find each other.  We no longer turn to the phonebook.

Information is freer than it has been at almost any point in human history.  So, naturally we have access to personal information alongside the revelations from big businesses, government organizations, and diplomatic missions.

Access to personal information has, in turn, allowed a new wave of business to flourish. Online residential address and phone number finders have enabled people to find each other with unrivaled ease.

So what does this mean for the phone book?

The once all-important phonebook, lynchpin of many a successful newsroom and business venture, seems for many young people to be declining into total obscurity.  It is viewed as nuisance at best.

But is this really true, and what does it mean if it is true?

The Green Backlash

Paper phone books use one resource in huge quantities that online phone books simply don’t.


If you guessed that correctly, you can collect your prize from your local bank or used car dealership.

This, alongside the fuel required to distribute the books, has caused many environmental activists to rail against the waste involved in distributing phone books that are apparently outdated and infrequently used.

Paper phone books are decreasing in size, according to the BBC.    They arel never really able to compete with online resources in terms of waste.  Worse, when they decrease in size, they decrease the amount of information they contain.

The Missing Phonebook Distributors

In August 2011, it was reported that five men had been released from a notorious gang-land area in Mexico, having been kidnapped and held for days.

The odd thing about these men is that they were all distributors of phone books.

It seems almost as though the idea that someone could be a distributor of phonebooks (in this day and age!) was incomprehensible to their kidnappers, a transparent and fundamentally suspicious alibi.

This is a Private Number

For some reason, people are inherently more protective of their privacy online than they are in other situations. It also appears to be certain things (like phone numbers, addresses and so on) that impel people to protect their information.

It doesn’t make much sense on the surface. The difference between, say, Facebook and the old White Pages isn’t that Facebook holds your phone numbers and address.  It’s that Facebook contains a lot of personal information and images as well, that link to your number.

Protesting that Facebook is infringing on your right to privacy over the former and not the latter is, in my opinion, getting it a little bit backwards. Especially when it later turned out that the panic was largely based on a misunderstanding.

The privacy issue might well influence how older individuals use phone books, but it’s unlikely to help their cause long-term.

Our Survey Says…

Polls and surveys carried out into the use of paper phonebooks are frustratingly inconclusive.

If we can just nip across the pond for a bi.  We ill find that reports that nearly 80% of Americans have stopped using phone books. Meanwhile,’s own survey, at time of writing, fully reversed the figure, with only 20% of their readers claiming that they “Never” used phone books.

It’s a problem of bias. Journalists need good stories, and they need the facts to match.


A peremptory analysis of a broader range of surveys shows that there appear to be two distinct demographics, internet resource users and phone book users.

The two rarely meet in surveys, both of which tend to be carried out for one industry or another (and thus are systematically biased), explaining the huge difference in the surveys, any one of which can, taken alone, be plucked from the ether and used to support your own take on the debate.

So, What Next For The PhoneBook?

It seems as though phone books are not exactly on death’s door: they fulfil a niche role for niche audiences that the online phone book or postcode finder simply does not.

Small businesses, local news, the elderly and those who are less keen on technology are all more likely to use phone books than to try searching for a friend on Google or Facebook.

It does seem, however, that the younger generation, the digital natives as they were once called, are using phone books less and less.

Phone books are (slowly) on the way out.

Patrick Robson is a freelance blogtrepreneur and writrovert who wordsculpts text-bombs into a spicy content pasanda. Or to put it another way, he writes blog posts for White Pages, an online postcode finder and alternative to the BT Phone Book.