It’s no surprise to anyone that print directories are being retired in the face of the seismic shift to electronic information services. I’m not one to wax nostalgic about this, especially since I’ve worked hard to bring about this shift! Since many of us are participating in this publishing industry history in the making I think it’s surprisingly informative to take a look at exactly how that shift is taking place.
- CQ Press’s Worldwide Governmental Directory was discontinued in 2013 along with its electronic version (World Powerbase). Despite its reliable, deep data and consistent structure it lost out to indirect competition from the loosely structured free web (Wikipedia, etc.).
- The World Aerospace Database, published for decades as the World Aviation Directory, was a massive industry compendium that pushed the limits of perfect binding for years. It was rolled into the online Aviation Week Intelligence Network portal in 2012 where it now provides a rock-solid foundation for the service.
- HEP, Inc. has published the Higher Education Directory for 30 years and the print product still perseveres along with its electronic adjuncts. The universe of higher education organizations in the US continues to grow, but the print product’s page count stays consistent because low-usage data is regularly pared from the print product. Cross-references direct users to this data at the company’s online properties.
- Contractors Register offers free, advertising-supported print directories of construction industry subcontractors to general contractors in dozens of regional editions. First printed over 100 years ago, all editions are still offered in print. Certain market sub-segments with demonstrably low usage of the print products and high usage of online services are being gradually dropped from the circulation lists. This reduces the number of copies printed every year, but maintains the products’ market “reach.”
These experienced business-to-business publishers’ different approaches show the resilience of publishing product managers in the face of major change. Everyone met similar, but not the exact same, challenges based on their products’ market position, renewal and usage data, production costs, and the unique markets they served. Their decisions show that change is not a matter of making simple yes/no decisions. Rather, complex analyses led to specific, often phased, long-term series of actions.
New products and start-ups may get more “ink” than established products, but there is life-and-death innovation going on in the trenches of our ever-changing industry.