Opt-in scheme for print White Pages makes Sensis

All but 2 per cent of the heavy White Pages phone books that used to be delivered around Melbourne and Sydney went straight to the recycling bin, it has been revealed.

Distribution of the phone book plummeted 98 per cent after Telstra subsidiary Sensis started testing an opt-in system in the two cities in 2011. Just 26,000 copies were requested each year in Melbourne and 20,000 in Sydney, a spokesman confirmed.

Sensis plans to keep the opt-in program and has extended it to other capital cities, including Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

"There is currently no view to roll this out to regional or Hobart markets," a spokesman said.

The Telstra directory business used to deliver about 1.5 million White Pages to both Melbourne and Sydney, which each have populations of more than 4 million. It still delivers that many copies of the White Pages business and government directory – unless a household opt out – and the Yellow Pages.

Revelations that so few copies were requested shows how low demand really was for the printed phone directory.

Many Australians have ditched their fixed phone line, preferring to use the White Pages online, store all the contact numbers they need in a mobile phone, or communicate through social media and email.

The revelation comes on the same day Telstra announced it was selling 70 per cent of Sensis to US-based private equity firm Platinum Equity for $454 million. This values the entire Sensis business at $649 million, compared with the $12 billion it was valued at in 2005 when then Sensis boss Bruce Akhurst was urging Telstra's chief executive at the time, Sol Trujillo, to sell or float the business.

As part of its 1997 licence conditions, Telstra must maintain an alphabetical list of all telephone numbers, provide directory assistance, publish public number directories, and operate emergency call services and warning services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority confirmed Telstra could still meet its licence conditions by providing directory assistance itself and contracting Sensis to produce and distribute the White Pages.

Telstra chief executive David Thodey said it had spoken to the government about these licence conditions and would keep talking to the Communications Department, regulators and the Communications Minister.

"I think that we are all looking at what this digitally enabled world means to many printed services . . . [and we] have to be cognisant of those who do not yet feel comfortable [with technology]," Mr Thodey said.

Sensis would "continue to print Yellow Pages where we think it is necessary", he said. There was still a "place for print, especially in regional areas where it is still an enormous use".

This story Opt-in scheme for print White Pages makes Sensis first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.