The ABCs of being first

The Madison County Record Jun. 1, 2008, 7:31pm

Grass is green.

The sky is blue.

Breakfast is served in the morning.

No, we aren't offering Sesame Street lessons. We're dreaming up actionable opportunities for opportunistic lawyers.

Color us inspired by Godfrey lawyer Neal Wallace, now suing Yellow Book in Madison County Court alleging the company is trifling with the elementary fact that the letter "A" comes first in the alphabet.

Wallace represents East Alton-based ABC Healthcare Plans, whose "front of the phone book" marketing strategy was apparently stymied when Yellow Book had the audacity to rank less alphabetically-worthy rivals ahead of it in the directory.

Those three letters don't represent the founders' initials, nor were they picked because they inspire confidence in health insurance shoppers. Rather, ABC named itself ABC for a single, solitary reason: to be first in the yellow pages.

"Restoration of the status quo has been rendered impossible by circumstances not the fault of ABC," reads Wallace's complaint, assigned to Judge Nicholas Byron's court.

By "status quo," Wallace presumably means that when it comes to phone directories, companies whose names begin with "ABC" should always be listed first.

This isn't Illinois law. And our Founding Fathers, in all their prescience, didn't have a word to say on the subject. But ABC is still asking Byron to enshrine alphabetical discrimination as the rule established not by democracy but by Madison County Court precedent.

It follows that ABC wants tens of thousands in damages for being so violated, including $44,000 in business it alleges has been unjustly "lost" to other brokers with names starting with inferior letters-- like B, C, and D.

This legal gambit is revealing to us. Who knew being first in the phone book was so lucrative? Or that companies would consciously name themselves for such a purpose?

It's worth noting that letting advertisers pay up for preferred directory placement--overriding others' imagined alphabetical or algorithmic privileges, as seems the case here--is a widely-used business model. Ironically, it's the bread-and-butter of Google, the search engine that is arguably Yellow Book's biggest rival.

Struggling to keep its print products relevant and useful in the internet age is hard enough for the company. Here's hoping Judge Byron doesn't make it harder.

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