They don’t grow on trees you know

Producing directories can be a labourand resource intensive process, using advanced processes – and lots of paper. By Steve Hemsley

Environmentalists might want to turn the page when they read that more than 500,000 tonnes of paper is used every year to produce the thousands of print directories published across Europe.

It is worth emphasising, however, that – according to the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration – 40 per cent of publishers, particularly those in the business-to-business field, expect to reduce their paper consumption by about 20 per cent over the next few years because of the gradual switch to electronic publishing.

At the height of the internet boom two years ago, the demise of the printed directory was widely predicted as companies began to move their lists online. Yet, despite the emergence of suitable new media, such as the CD-ROM, paper remains big business for publishers. In fact, directory advertising accounted for £959m of the £4.046bn spent on classified advertising in the UK last year (Advertising Association).

One of the reasons paper directories have been able to flourish and remain highly profitable is that technology has made production processes more efficient. In the last decade alone, manual typesetting methods have been replaced by off-the-shelf or bespoke software programmes that have sped up data-collection, design and printing significantly.

The paper directory business has come a long way since the pioneers in this field embarked on the time-consuming task of collating and compiling trade directories by hand, using data that was usually difficult to gather and often unreliable.

In the UK, wealthy merchants began publishing directories long before the invention of the telephone. It is known that one Samuel Lee produced a 120-page directory called the Merchants of the City of London in 1677.

Germany also started early – a guide to the city of Leipzig was published in 1701 and the first address book for the town of Lübeck was distributed in 1798 by publishing house Schmidt-Romhild. This particular directory is still published today, but its content is very different from the original version, which had sections listing members of the city council, the clergy and citizens of note along with their professions and addresses. A fourth section gave details of doctors, lawyers, hotels, restaurants, coach riders and shippers: it was in many ways a forerunner to the modern day Yellow Pages.

A long gestation

The complexities of producing such a comprehensive trade directory as the Yellow Pages, launched in the UK in Brighton in 1966, meant that publisher Yell did not achieve national coverage until the early Eighties, when the brand was supported by a significant marketing spend for the first time.

The creative work centred on the now-famous television advertising campaign featuring fictional author JR Hartley, who visited a number of secondhand bookshops in search of a copy of his own out-of-print title Fly Fishing. He finally tracks one down after calling a number of shops that advertise in the Yellow Pages.

The categories listed in the Yellow Pages have changed over the years, as consumer tastes and habits have altered. Mobile phones, aromatherapy and bouncy castles did not exist 27 years ago, for instance, while classifications such as mungo and shoddy – the art of recycling wool fibre to make cleaning cloths – have disappeared completely as the demand for certain trades has died out.

Yell head of external relations Richard Duggleby says paper directories are essential marketing tools that bring buyers and sellers together: “To many small and medium-sized businesses, the local Yellow Pages accounts for a large proportion of – if not all of – the marketing budget each year. The more people who use the directory, the more companies advertise in it and the more useful people find it. This means the production process must be of the highest quality.”

Yell is reluctant to take any risks with the production of Yellow Pages or its Business Pages directories and has consequently worked with the same pre-press, printing and binding companies for the past 20 years.

Pindar Set produces more than 1 million adverts and 200,000 classified pages, while RR Donnelly’s, which relocated to one of Europe’s most efficient directory-focused printing plants in Flaxby Moor in North Yorkshire two years ago, converts 70,000 tonnes of paper into 40 million directories. Its five web presses run almost 87,000 metres of paper every hour while the binding line can produce 10,000 pages an hour.

In 1981, after 15 years of manually sticking ads together for Yellow Pages, Pindar Set switched to a digital system. The majority of advertisers still ask for their ads to be designed for them, and modernisation has reduced the number of production stages necessary and, consequently, the chance that any errors will appear.

In the US, where Yell publishes the Yellow Book, Pindar Set installed a production system called Clipper last year. It claims to be the first all-digital system, completely removing the need for paper from the sale of the classified ad to the printing of the directory. The system may be introduced in the UK later this year.

For Donnelly’s, one of the biggest changes came in 1999, when Yellow Pages decided to move from two-colour to four-colour printing, bringing it into line with most of mainland Europe’s directory industry.

Burgeoning trade

Publisher Haymarket has seen its trade directory business expand over the past four years, from four titles to 12. This includes the 300-page Promotions and Incentives Buyers’ Guide and the twice-yearly Direct Marketing Guide. The number of editorial staff has grown from four to 15, while the sales team has increased from two executives to ten.

The company uses the automated production system LinkUp, developed in 1994 by MCResearch. It enables the user to create different styles of Quark Xpress page templates, which the computer program will then follow throughout the design of the directory.

The program searches its database, selects the correct entries for each page and even knows in what style each entry should appear. The software can also help the directory team with indexing, because it tracks where each entry should appear in the book even if the page numbers have altered because the number of advertising pages has changed.

MCResearch systems manager Chris Laing says: “It means that work which would have taken six to eight weeks can now be completed in a couple of days, and last-minute changes do not present the kind of problems they used to.”

Haymarket directories publisher Katharine Davies says accurate databases are crucial to the division’s success and that although each directory has its own database, the LinkUp software means lists can be merged.

About two-thirds of the information in Haymarket’s directories changes each year, and gathering and checking the data is a time-consuming process. All entrants are e-mailed, faxed or mailed a number of times before the final editorial deadline.

The directory team works closely with the marketing department: pre-publication meetings are held more than six months before a title is due to published to discuss possible changes to the content or layout. For the latest edition of the Promotions and Incentives Buyers’ Guide, marketers suggested an improved front cover and the use of tinted colour on the enhanced listings. Both ideas were implemented.

Four months before publication, the circulation department will attempt to match the directory sales with its advertisers’ target market, while advertising space promoting the book is taken in the relevant trade press. Within weeks of a book being published, the company will telephone or write to buyers and advertisers, seeking feedback.

Mouth-watering margins

One of the reasons business-to-business directories are often surprisingly profitable is that they are compiled by a relatively small team, yet priced at a premium because they offer users a one-stop shop for information on their specific market.

The use of automated production technology means staff costs can be kept even lower. At EMAP, production manager Vanessa Carter and her colleague Mark Staples can virtually compile the BRAD media directory on their own, because their knowledge of the production software – called Pianzhang – is so extensive.

EMAP was the first company to adopt the Pianzhang system, when it decided to move away from a coded-text typesetting system in the Nineties. Pianzhang enables them to link the database, graphics and layout for the 1,200 BRAD pages.

EMAP is now considering changing its production software again, because Pianzhang is no longer available as an off-the-shelf product which means there is no technical or training support available to new staff.

Carter says: “At the moment this is not a problem: we know the system so well. But if we were to leave, it would create difficulties. We are considering the options and may well go with a bespoke system next time. It all depends on the costs involved.”

Large publishing houses often identify markets for their directories by analysing the circulation lists of their magazines. But many other organisations have identified directories as a potentially lucrative revenue stream and they usually chose to outsource their production requirements.

Kent-based Boundary I-Media produces nine directories for various clients including the Directory Publishers Association. Director Glen Wilders says the directory production business is 80 per cent about functionality and 20 per cent about market knowledge: “We provide the functionality, so the client can produce a profitable directory. The client provides the industry information. We have the infrastructure – an experienced directory director, sales manager and marketing manager – and in effect act as the client’s directories division.” Boundary has its own bespoke production system into which raw data is downloaded from the client’s database.

He continues: “To help a client maximise the return from their directory, we make sure they have set key marketing objectives from the start. This means balancing the needs of the directory user with the needs of the information provider – the advertiser.”

Doing it in-house

Some trade bodies choose not to outsource their directory requirements and are able to publish a successful product with their own small team. The Market Research Society, for instance, produces the Research Buyer’s Guide with a team of just two.

The man in temporary charge of putting together the latest volume is Andrew Rodirick, who joined the MRS last July but whose skills are largely on the database rather than directory publishing side.

He has agreed to take responsibility for the latest guide until a new person is appointed, and has spent the past two months hurriedly learning Quark Xpress page design – a necessary skill to operate the US-designed production system efficiently. The system exports data files into Quark pages, from where the 1,000-page directory can be designed and proof-read by Rodirick.

People will always crave easy access to information and, while the internet fulfils certain needs, it has yet to provide an acceptable alternative to the well-indexed, comprehensive paper directory that sits on an executive’s desk and can be searched in seconds.

Success notwithstanding, the directory industry is aware of how much paper it uses and the pressure being placed on it to be seen as environmentally friendly in an internet-dominated business world. Consequently, since 1998 it has operated the Directory Recycling Scheme, working with Waste Watch and the Woodlands Trust. In 2000, research by FDS International revealed that 40 per cent of households recycled their Yellow Pages. Yell set a target of helping local councils to recycle 45 per cent of its directories by March this year.

Should it reach its target – and if other directory companies actively encourage recycling among their subscribers – the tree lobby should be able to rest easy.

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