Before the luxurious world of Google search, a phone book was a staple on almost every stoop in the city. But even today, more than 100K phone books are distributed in the Greater Philadelphia region.
While they may seem obsolete — “No one in my family uses it,” one 18-year-old told Billy Penn — the paper tomes may still be useful for some demographics, including many senior citizens.
“There’s 20% to 30% of the population that is not digital savvy, and they have a right to access to a plumber, to an electrician, to an attorney, right to a dentist or whatever,” said Keith Monge, regional marketing manager at Thryv, the nation’s largest distributor of directories.
Pennsylvania regulations used to mandate mass yellow and business white pages distribution, but that ended in 2017. The Philly region saw roughly 113K directories distributed in 2023 and 2022, according to Monge, a count that’s slightly higher than some comparable metro areas.
In Philadelphia proper, some areas get many more books delivered than others, according to Thryv data reviewed by Billy Penn. Neighborhoods with high density delivery routes are scattered across the city, including Southwest Philly’s Eastwick, West Philly’s Mill Creek, South Philly’s Point Breeze, and a large cluster around Kensington-Feltonville-Fairhill. The fewest phone books are delivered in Old City, Rittenhouse, Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Port Richmond, and most of the Northeast.
So who is using all these print directories?
Thryv examines and tracks consumer usage two main ways — through direct polling conducted by a third-party vendor, and by tracking calls made to businesses in the directory who agree to the process, according to Lisa Horn, the company’s regional market manager.
Generally, a lot of people over the age of 62 use both physical and digital directories, Thryv has found, and almost 14% of Philly’s population is 65 or older.
Kasey Shamis, an 18-year-old from the Northeast, has never once laid her hands on the directory — but she’s aware of its past significance. “There’s one sitting in my house, that’s like, I don’t know, probably older than I am,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, Google and social media platforms are where it’s at for Gen Z when seeking the info for local businesses.
“Personally, I have all the phones and Google… I don’t see the need to use a phone book,” said Gabby Rodriguez, 19.
Some older Philadelphians likely feel differently.
“They’re a lot more comfortable, just going to the phone book, opening it up to the plumber, and going ‘Let me call this guy right here,’” said Horn “So we send it to all those that are 62 and up, and those are the people that are most likely to use it.”
A cheaper, accessible way to reach a mass audience
The directory’s popularity peaked around the early to mid-2000s, said Monge, but there are still plenty of businesses that think it’s worthwhile.
Michael Yaede is the service and install manager at Global Services, an HVAC contractor located on Castor Avenue. His company advertises in the phone book because it’s a cheaper and more accessible way of showcasing the business to a mass audience, he said, including members of older generations.
“We always ask how they found us and the ones that are ‘the Yellow Pages’ or ‘the yellow book’ is usually older people,” Yaede told Billy Penn. These customers probably have smartphones, he said, “but they don’t use them to search as much as they use the yellow pages.”
Although the usage of the books is not as prominent as they once were, Yaede categorizes them as “economically feasible” given the number of older residents in the area.
Marina Kats is managing partner at Kats, Jamison & Associates, which focuses on personal injury law. She sees the physical copy as not only an opportunity to reach older individuals who may be in need of a local attorney but also as a way to promote representation of female lawyers in the personal injury field.
“You’d be surprised how many times I’m on a panel with lawyers and I’m the only one female,” Kats said, “and if you look inside the book, you could see the picture of our firm.”
She has been advertising in the yellow pages since around 1994. For the 2022 book, Kats’ face was featured on the front cover. She also has a full-page ad inside.
Want a physical phone book?
Philadelphians interested in ordering a physical phone book can contact a local phone provider. For example, AT&T offers directories by calling 877-243-8339 and Verizon local pages can be ordered by calling 1-844-339-6334. Monge said a phone book distributed by Thryv should arrive in about 3 to 5 business days.
Looking for a central place to find info online? The City of Philadelphia offers a service directory, which can also be accessed by calling 311, to learn more about local resources.