Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Thomas Register Big Green Books Now a Relic

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote that Thomas Publishing was transforming its Thomas Register line from print directories to online marketplaces for buyers and sellers of industrial products. Since that time (October, 2003), Web-based directories have become hot commodities as directory publishers increasingly understand the advantages of moving to an online advertising model and leveraging the search engines to drive traffic to the directory sites to increase usage and revenue. Yesterday Thomas announced that the Thomas Register will discontinue its print publications and complete its "transition to the Internet". For Thomas, the cost-savings realized from discontinuing to print and ship its huge directories are blatantly obvious.

Perhaps the largest benefits accrue to the users of the online directories. Interactive features of refining searches to quickly create the desired prospect list and the ability to immediately link to more information about vendors--and even place orders online--are huge timesavers. Better yet, online directories don't take up space on one's bookshelf.

But before we announce the death of print, it may be wiser to focus on the shifting role of print. There may yet be new print vehicles for specialized content from the Thomas Register (and the other Thomas buying guides) that serve the needs of specific audiences. As John Blossom wrote earlier today with respect to changes in the market for print magazines "the answer is to move print magazine outlets to become a far more personally packaged product for elite subscribers, so that advertisers can take advantage of highly focused audiences within their target demographics to maximize the value of their print campaigns". In the case of Thomas Register, industrial buyers may not want to clog up their offices with a 33 volume directory; however mobile sales people may still prefer to have a tangible print product to showcase their goods. The possibilities for specialized print supplements to the online directories are endless. Just as TechTarget, a born-on-the-Web series of online IT directories, develops new print magazines to support certain segments, Thomas Publishing will likely also find that print still plays a role in its media mix. So, while it is tempting to declare print 'dead' when hearing that the >100 year old publication will cease to be produced, it is better to view the news as confirmation that Web-based publishing is now the core of Thomas' publishing operations--just as it should be for any publisher that plans to stay in business.
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