The age of telephone directories is over

Published: 31 January 2022

This year, telecommunication service providers are no longer obliged to publish a paper telephone directory. Voice-based and online directory assistance services, as well as online search engines and social networking sites, have all but eliminated the demand for heavy publications.

Due to declining consumer demand, the universal service nature of telephone directories (formally known as subscriber directories) will be discontinued, meaning that from 2022 service providers will no longer be obliged to publish subscriber data in the form of a book (or on a data carrier).

According to NMHH market research, nearly 60,000 directories were printed in 2017, but by 2020 there were less than 17,000, and the number of directories received by consumers had halved. The number of telephone directories distributed on electronic data carriers (CDs) is also falling even more steeply, from 31,000 to just 2,500, a 92% drop.

There are many reasons for this lack of interest, but they all have one common denominator: the internet. In addition to online directory assistance services, online search engines and social networking sites are a major competitor, making it easier to find a person or service. The widespread use of smartphones and mobile internet has accelerated this process: today, if you want to call someone, you can search on your phone on multiple platforms.

Each of the three major telecom service providers has its own online directory service, where you can search by name, address or phone number.

The Telekom directory is available at Telekom directory, Telenor's at Telenor directory, and Vodafone's at Vodafone directory.

Nobody uses it, but we all pay the cost

According to NMHH's market research, around 8% of the population aged 14 and above used some form of telephone directory in the 6 months preceding the survey. However, this relatively low figure still represents 700,000 people. Many of them, presumably due to a lack of internet access, reached for the phone book. However, this layer of the population may be compensated by the fact that they can still dial the universal directory assistance service and the information lines maintained by the service providers about their subscribers.

The universal directory assistance service, available on the telephone number 11800, will tell you at any time, by name and address, whether the person or organisation has a telephone subscription and what their number is. In addition to the universal directory assistance service, Magyar Telekom provides a commercial directory assistance service on 11818 and Invitel on 11888.

Service providers charge a fee per call for the use of the directory assistance services, which varies from provider to provider. According to the NMHH's study, the use of a universal directory assistance service can fully replace telephone directories.

The end of loss-making phone book publishing is actually good news for all consumers. Even though the paper (and CD) databases were free of charge, the cost of these databases was ultimately paid for by the consumers in their subscription fees. Meanwhile, the actual use of such databases was negligible and declined steeply year by year. Moreover, there are strong environmental arguments against the production of printed telephone directories, as it takes a lot of paper to produce such large publications. Also, paper production is a water- and energy-intensive process. A heavier phone book can weigh up to a kilogram. It takes 2-3 kg of wood and 45-55 litres of water, 10-12 kWh of energy and a lot of chemicals to produce this amount of paper. By considering the downward trend, 30-40 tonnes of wood per year and 7-800 000 litres of water is saved by abandoning the production of telephone directories. The phasing out of telephone directories is therefore a positive event from an environmental and economic point of view.