The battle over whether Seattle should have an opt-out policy for yellow pages phone books took an interesting turn yesterday when the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) sent out a statement attacking Council Member Mike O'Brien for using a phone-book opt-out system as the first step in a plot to tax newspapers. Obrien's bill would create a city-run opt-out system to prohibit phone book publishers from distributing yellow pages to those who don't want them and charge the companies a fee.

YPA said it was encouraged by the city council's decision last Monday to reexamine the ordinance's impact, but added, "this ordinance is a way for the city to levy 'advance recovery fees' and serves as a warning to others doing business in Seattle."

"Councilman O’Brien has been very clear on his desire to 'tax' additional media which could include major newspapers and community shoppers," the statement from YPA President Neg Norton continues. In other words, beware The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, and The Seattle Times.

Very clear?

"Did Council Member O'Brien at any point indicate that he wants to 'tax additional media'?" I asked O'Brien's office. "Council Member O’Brien is not interested in 'taxing other media'—he is interested in working with Seattle businesses to consider the cost of disposal and recycling in their production decisions. A recovery fee is one mechanism for doing this," came the reply from his staff.

So I asked YPA to elaborate on their claim. The YPA said that although O'Brien "has not shared his entire game plan with the industry, when they raised concerns in closed door meetings about being singled out in the print advertising space, he replied that they’re the first bite at the apple."

YPA says that apparently O'Brien "has seen the data and knows that YPA is a only a small slice of the waste stream at 0.3 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for newspapers, 2.2 percent for standard mail, and 0.8 percent for magazines."

More YPA spin? Maybe we'll get some answers at Monday's City Council meeting when the full council will vote on the ordinance.

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UPDATE: With regards to the "first bite" part, O'Brien's office said that the Yellow Pages industry is one of the first industries that the city is requiring to bear the cost of recycling their product. "The council does intend to continue to look at other business and industries where it would be appropriate for them to also shoulder these costs," O'Brien's staff said. "Yellow pages are a small part of our waste stream but because such a large portion of the books are unwanted and un-used, they represent unnecessary waste (in contrast newspapers operate on an opt-in system so the majority of newspapers that are delivered are requested and read or used before being recycled)."