May 21, 2009

Should You Take a Job Delivering Phone Books?

The advertisement in the newspaper looked very appealing: Earn Cash Now Delivering Phone Books. I imagined myself walking around, tossing phone books in mailboxes and having a good time making a bit of cash. I am writing this blog to warn anyone else who is considering a career in the phone book transportation. Hopefully this article will give you an idea of the work involved before you commit to anything.
I can't say that I didn't have plenty of warning about the lousy situation I was about to put myself in. Maybe it was the fact that they wouldn't give me any information whatsoever over the phone. I had to go in for an "interview". The place was in this huge warehouse stuffed to the gills with pallets of phonebooks. It was hotter than hell, with half a dozen workers sweating profusely in their makeshift office in the corner.
I was instructed to grab a seat and watch a video, looking around at my fellow desparados - a jumble of moms with babies pulling on their pants, a few guys whose clothes suggested they were down to their last nickel, and myself. Just to be fair to the others, I had my own wife and our one year old baby waiting outside for me in the hot sun, nestled between the lone porta-potty and the row of bulging dumpsters. Yes, I could have cut loose and ran away, but somehow, a little voice kept telling me that I had to give this job a go.
I finished the video, and found out they will hire absolutely anybody who shows up with a vehicle, even if you have to push it down the road. Everyone else just randomly took a route in their neighborhood, which is a BIG, BIG mistake that will set you up for immeasurable torture. I on the other hand sat down with the pile of routes and tried to figure out the easiest bang for my buck.
Since you have to actually get out of your car and put them by the door of every house, if you live in a rural area, this quickly becomes a nightmare. I figured the best strategy was to pick a route that had huge apartments in it. That way I could just park my truck and go up and down the halls quickly. The pay works out to about $1 for every 6 phone books you deliver, and you have to bag them yourself too. If you have to drive to every house, you realize pretty quickly that you are holding the short end of the stick. If you get a bunch of big apartment buildings, you can unload them pretty quickly and it is not too bad.
I pulled my truck into the warehouse at 8 AM the next day, loaded it with almost about 800 phone books, and putted off to spend the next 10 hours delivering them. I had to load up again later too, since my truck couldn't hold all of them. Completely exhausted, I stumbled into the office and turned in my completed route. They say you will get paid in 48 hours, but it really took them 6 days to cough up my hard-earned dough. Was it worth it??? Yes it was, but ONLY because I sat down and picked the best route out of the pile. If you have to drive around for two days straight and walk up to every house, it will work out to about $5 an hour if you are really quick, which is lousy money for very hard work. I asked the guys loading my truck up how many people quit and give back the books unpaid, and they said "plenty of them".

Here is my list of tips for anyone about to take a job delivering phone books:

  1. Only take this job if you have either a huge car/SUV, a van, or some kind of truck. Otherwise you will find yourself having to return to fill up over and over again, wasting time and gas. I watched in amazement as people stuffed 100 books at a time into their Nissan Sentras, and had to return 12 times a day!
  2. Take your time and dig through the pile of routes. You can find out if you have lots of apartments by seeing many different names for the same street address. This point is crucial!  Remember that even if it takes you an extra hour to figure out which is the easiest and quickest route in the pile, it will probably save you hours when delivering them.
  3. Remember that sometimes a route that is far away might be a lot better in the long run than one that is nearby.  The reason is because even though it might take you an hour to get there, if it is full of quick and easy apartments, it will be faster than separate home delivery.
  4. Make sure you bring a hand-truck or some other kind of cart with wheels. If you don't have one, borrow one from someone. This way you can load 60 books on the hand-truck and wheel your way around easily without having to return to your car every 2 minutes.
  5. Only do this job if you are in good shape and up to the physically demanding work. Otherwise you will probably quit and either won't get paid anything, or get a very paltry sum for your unfinished work. I am in tip-top shape and was completely exhausted by the time I finished.
I hope this information is useful to those of you considering taking a job delivering phone books. I would love to read any comments you have about your experiences.


  1. agg its a nightmare. I took the second to last route available and its terrible. Its half rural half not. There are no available maps online for a lot of the rural. They have me driving 20 miles out of town. the list is so incomplete that 20% of the books i've delivered were to addresses not listed. i'm probly going tquit cuz it doesn't seem worth it not to.

  2. Thank you very much for the informative article. It realy helped with my decision making process. I am a stay at home mom of two small children. I thought that it would be a fairly easy way to help supplement my husband's income. However, after doing my homework, I see that it may not be the best job for me. Thank you for sharing your's good to hear it from someone who has gone through the process. I think the key to being successful at this opportunity to make a few extra dollars is knowing what you're going into, and seriously considering if this is something you are willing to see through to the finish.

  3. I'm glad to hear that this article is doing some good and helping some people.

    1. Thank you very much for the info. I am going for the interview tomorrow morning. I'll come back and tell you how it went.

  4. I deliver 368 books in october for SDDS and have never been paid. I call and they say it's going out today, but never came.

  5. That is too bad. Sometimes you really need to play hardball with these companies because they are so used to taking advantage of people. I would go down there and demand that they give you a check. It might help if you threaten to call the better business bureau or something like that! Good luck!

  6. I was wondering if you have to claim the amount on your taxes? We only made about $110. Never again!!!!

  7. Thanks for all the bad comment it looks like there will be more routs for me.

  8. Happy Devliery BoyApril 17, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    I've worked for SDDS and have had nothing but good experience with them. Plan to keep on as well. In fairness, I do know it can take a lot of work and there are sometimes snafu's. But for me, it's been a good deal. I am thinking I'll continue for as long as they will have me. Once I got a good system down, I can make way more than $5 an hour. Mosr like $11 most of the time. (less gas of course.)

  9. I deliver phonebooks year round, and yeah it is extremely hard work, for minimal pay, but if you get some ppl to help you and a system going you can make money at it, my partner and I made $1500 last week, just the 2 of us, and while that wasn't all profit it was still good money, not to mention I have had 2 kids and am now in the best shape of my life.

  10. @The Free Kin Francis Family,

    At least with SDDS, you do have to report what you make. You'll get a 1099 at the end of the year.

    I agree with the original poster in that you really need to be selective on your routes and own a truck of some sort. Otherwise, there's very little money to be made with this type of job considering the time & effort you need to invest.

    A better alternative would be to deliver flyers door-to-door. Much less wear and tear on you back! Look on Craigslist. I see them all the time.

  11. I'm so glad I found your article!!!
    I have an interview scheduled tomorrow but I am NOT going anymore. I was going to be delivering them by myself in a Mitsubushi Eclipse. Oh and I'm an 18 year old girl haha not happening!!! I thought it was going to be an easy way to make some money, obviously not! Thanks so much!

  12. Im a snowboard instructor in the winter, and I make most of my summer income delivering phonebooks. It make WAY more than I used to working for fifty hours a week at $10 an hour. BUT I am in great shape from riding all winter and I have have a big SUV. AND I also deliver with it 2 other snowboard instructors. It wouldn't be worth it unless your in a similar situation :D

  13. Very Good information. I was looking for a while to make some extra money but this doesn't seem worth it.

  14. Horrible, horrible, horrible.... I was expected to deliver over 1100 phone books to a somewhat rural area. I am a stay at home mom so I cashed in all of my babysitting favors with my friends and I gave it a shot. I'm in good physical condition, but doing this part time was almost impossible. My entire family fears phone books now. I did this for extra Christmas money, but I realize now that the 30+ hours spent delivering phone books would have a much better gift for my children than anything I could purchase for the $97 I was paid. Lesson learned, universe......

  15. I've done this before & am thinking of doing it again. There's 3 things you can do to make more money at this:
    1) Choose the big, close-together routes;
    2)Have a truck or larger vehicle to hold more phone books at once (you don't want to make multiple trips back to command central for another load, just to finish your route);
    and what I think is the most important thing in really accelerating your profit...
    3)Get together a team. You want at least 3 people. #1 is the driver, map reader, calls out house #'s for the others, records which houses the team says they got, passes out books, etc. #2 takes one side of the street: They grab armful of books, go drop them at houses, come back & yell out which ones they hit/didn't hit, and grabs more books to go to the next set. #3 does the same thing on the other side of the street. If you have a team of 5 & have 2 people per side of the street it really goes fast, as the driver can just creep down the road while they go back & forth to load up on more books.

  16. I did not see this article until after I went to orientation, loaded my poor little SUV down with books and bagged a mere 40 books at home. I dread unloading and re-loading the car. Is the double handling really necessary? Experienced people have told me yes, it is. It's Friday evening. I have the weekend and will need to have a second load put into my car when the fist load is gone to complete all the work in my huge route. I will be working alone. My only hope is, though I've never done this before, I am experienced at driving routes and figuring out the fastest system. I did not look for apartments. I said I wanted a route that paid at least $100. They gave me two routes that paid a total of $195. Now I'm hoping I didn't bite off more than I can chew. I realized going into this it wouldn't be easy but I figured some money was better than none for now. I read your article and laughed so hard I cried. I haven't had a good belly laugh like that in so long. Thank you. You should look into a writing career. You write very well.

  17. here is the REAL DEAL...

    I did this for one route back in the 90s. I made way over min wage (which was 4.75 in Oregon).

    I'm in between yobs, so I tried it again just now. Well, I am making about the same $$$ per/hr as I did 15 yrs ago.

    I go about 4 hrs per day, because after that I slow down and get sore.

    I will vouge for "snowboarder".
    Best way to do it is if you are young and have your bros with you - to all knock out the routes fast to get money for the rent.

    From a business perspective, here is why it sucks so hard: the books contract out to the delivery companies. Who then contract out to you.

    So all the way down the chain, $$$ is set at just enough to get someone to do it - that is how the contractor world just happens to operate.

    And becaue at this time of super high unemployment, they can set the pay at rate that is just below min wage and people will still sign up and do it because they have bills to pay.

    So I can tell you to stay as far away from this job as you can - unless you want to get paid to work out. You don't need p90 x, just do this and you will get in serious shape.

    As a side note, when I was about 22, me and my rock climbing friends used to move furniture to make money and get in shape for rock climbing - we would hold the crap with our fingertips to make us stronger on the rock - and it worked!

    So I say - do it for the workout, but don't do it for any kind of meaningful work.

  18. I just started that, we have 3 days to complete each root, get 17 cents per book delivered, and it is strenuous but still somewhat fun. I just am doing this route for now because i have work and school but as long as youre up to walk alot its nice for extra gas money.

  19. Anyone thinking of this job should read this again! It's very true. I tried my hand at this today and quit in 2 hours. SUCKED! I knew it would suck but had no clue it was this bad. The only way to make any money is to have some kind of wagon to carry books and a driver to meet you at the end of the street to refill up. I think a team of 3 would be best. A driver and two walkers to cover both sides of the street. Or just go to McD's you will make the same money and work far less.

  20. if they have a map on the wall, pick the smallest SIZE route with the highest number of stops. that usually means apartment complexes and you can really knock out a lot of books in a short time. doing residential streets just takes FOREVER. you don't realize how long it really takes to walk up a driveway, walk down a driveway, walk down to the next house, walk up a driveway, walk down a driveway over and over again. with an apartment complex the doors are just 8 or 10 feet apart.

  21. Thanks for the head's up!!

  22. If you're still there and responding to comments, I'd like to say that I worked for the US Census and loved it--walking house to house to take interviews. We did get paid by the hour, however--not by the interview. Anywho, do you think if I liked the Census work, that this phone book work might be a good fit for me? I'm going tomorrow to turn in my application and view the orientation video.

  23. That's funny - I also worked for the census back when they were hiring everyone for the big count. I guess the 2 jobs are similar in that you go to every house, but they are very, very different. Delivering phone books is pretty much a go-as-fast-as-you-can operation, and the company doesn't really care much about anything other than you getting rid of the load of books in your car. The census on the other hand is work for the US Government, and you take things very, very slowly, making sure you get all of the info you need before moving on.

    But a job is a job I guess. You'll know if it is a good fit for you within an hour of doing it! If you really can't stand it, just bring back the books and give them back - no harm done!