End of the line for the phone book
By Simon Hacker | 13th February 2024
Whether it was handy for that table with a wobbly leg, proving who had the strongest ripping ability or calling your ancient auntie who never got a mobile, the old-fashioned phone book has been a facet of domestic life since the Victorian era.
Once hefty enough to bludgeon a burglar, editions in this century have progressively slimmed and the final issue, now landing on doormats across Gloucestershire, produces little more thud than a tabloid newspaper. Indeed, alongside classified ads for local services, the issue covering the southern end of the county includes just 53 pages of home listings.
The graph for the book's popularity has certainly been eliptical: it began in 1880 with just 248 homes in London which were affluent enough to have a newfangled telecommunications device. That changed quickly though and by 1914, 1.5m listings were included, while for much of the last century the phone book, in the absence of the internet, was the bible for communication. As a broad guide, if you or your business existed, you were in it.
But its final days have come. Amid possible surprise among many that it was still going in 2024, BT has finally called Einsa Print, its supplier in Spain, and terminated the contract on Britain's biggest print publication.
Aside from the cessation of an 18m print run, that's a conversation that may have been tricky for broader reasons: BT says that the book's insatiable appetite for consuming trees clashed with its environmental goals.
As the company moves towards increasing digitisation, BT said: "It's a move that will have a positive impact on the environment: helping us save around 6,000 tonnes of paper every year - the equivalent of 72,000 trees. It will also help us progress towards BT Group's target to become a Net Zero business by 2030."
But the print industry might differ. Print Monthly cites Two Sides, which it says has facts and statistics to show paper production ensures healthy growing forests which encourage climate and biodiversity protection.
Print Monthly added: "Over several years Two Sides has highlighted the serious danger of greenwashing to the print and packaging industries, citing a potential loss of £22.4m of annual value if left unchallenged."
Clearly BT has made its mind up on the issue, but for nostalgia lovers who will cherish the last issue and forever mourn a hands-on directory, all may not be lost: BT has indicated that it has been in consultation with Ofcom with a plan to preserve a final print option.
Faisal Mahomed, Director of BT's UK portfolio businesses, said: "It's not a decision we've taken lightly. We know there are a small number of customers who may still rely on a printed phone book."
BT's apparent solution is a pdf version of the phone book. So all you need to do now is teach that auntie how to use her printer.
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