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End of an era: the phone book is no more

© Belga

The annual ritual of receiving two phone books delivered and then wondering how to get rid of them is over, according to publishers FCR Media.

The two publications – the White Pages listing names, addresses and phone numbers of all subscribers to the telephone service, and the Yellow Pages for commercial customers – have been something of an anachronism for some time now.

The growth of the internet, and more importantly the huge increase in people’s access to the internet, has meant that there are many better ways to contact a person or business than to bring up a hefty tome and leaf through it.

In addition, the mass movement away from land-lines to mobile phones means there is no simple way to gather together what most people now consider their telephone number.

In 1999, the existing phone books went online, and from that time the future of the printed books was sealed. Even so, this year’s edition was published in a print run of 700,000.

That is far less than the 4.5 million copies printed in the 1970s and 1980s (each household receives two books) and the 2.2 million printed just five years ago.

We had been planning to put an end to the printed editions for some time,” Maja Van der Borst, FCR Media’s communications manager, told De Tijd. “We noticed that only older people were still using them.”

What prolonged the life of the books was the long-term contract with the government. FCR Media had no interest in halting production unilaterally, and the government was signed up for the long haul. Householders complained that the books were delivered on the doorstep when nobody had asked for them, forcing the public to get rid of them at huge waste of materials and effort.

Still the books brought in €2 million in advertising for FCR Media, and €1 million profit. The decision to stop printing will save the company roughly €1 million in costs.

We will try to safeguard that turnover and profit as much as possible by attracting paper advertisers over to our online versions,” says Van der Borst. The two existing sites goldenpages.be and whitepages.be receive some four million enquiries a year.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times