January 23, 2014 Last Updated 3:53 pm

The traditional print buyers guide needs to find a new home on digital publishing platforms

The mainstay of so many B2B magazines used to be the buyers guide – those often thick, late in the publishing season, directories that were like Black Friday for publishers – they often could turn a bad year into a good one.

For advertisers, the buyers guide was the one issue they would be sure not to miss, even if they were cutting back their buy from 12 issues down to 6.

Directory-print-lgFor many B2B publishers, the buyers guide is still around, though a number of them look to be getting stale (and thinner). And luckily for publishers, few new digital ventures are coming into B2B to compete with them on tablets and smartphones.

As any B2B publisher who has a clue knows, anything can be turned into a buyers guide: not just their main niche, but every small niche, every category, can be its own buyers guide.

When I was publisher of a transportation construction magazine one of my sales people, Dave, asked me why we didn’t do a buyers guide for the bridge industry, one of our subcategories. I told him because they were a lot of work, and we were already blowing out the budget (and I didn’t want management, who were always trying to screw me, boosting the next year’s budget even more than they were planning on).

But, I said, if he wanted to plan one for the following year, I would let him management the project. So the next year we published a bridge construction buyers guide inside the November issue. (I left the company two months later after getting paid my bonus, thanks Dave!)

Ah, what we could have done in digital, though. In a print buyers guide one can organize the listings by categories including location. But a digital directory, one that works on a smartphone or tablet (or both) can not only arrange the companies by location, but chart them right on a map, allow for the phone call, etc.

YP-iPhone5-lgA look inside the Apple App Store shows that “yellow page” apps are numerous, thanks to both the term “yellow pages” and the walking finger icon not trademarked in the U.S. (AT&T blew that one).

Beyond geolocation, the other major advantage to digital directories, especially when the number of companies involved in fairly limited, is the ability to provide to the reader far more information than is possible in a traditional print directory.

This was the motivation behind our Tablet Publishing magazine app.

When first conceived, Konstantinos Antonopoulos and I discussed the need for more information on digital publishing platforms for creating digital magazine apps. It wasn’t enough to just know who was out there, but what platforms did they support (iOS, Android), where they a PDF solution or a native software solution, did they use a plug-in for InDesign or Quark, what examples did they have of already launched tablet magazines?

It was possible that we could have published our Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms as a stand-alone app, but I felt that didn’t provide the example needed for other B2B publishers who often employ their directories within regular issues – so articles were added to the magazine issue, as well. Our design was all about the Guide, which went through several designs from beautiful but limiting, to utilitarian but sparse, to a blend of both.

The final touch, I suppose, was Konstantinos’s decision to create an infographic that included all 44 of the companies in the Guide – that is his specialty.

What our Guide did not do, because it was unnecessary, was bring in geolocation. Although there are companies from The Netherlands, Germany, Australia and elsewhere, publishers are not limited to solutions tied to their location. But I can see how important this would be for buyers guides built for many of the magazines I previously published.

Here is a brief look at our own directory from Tablet Publishing:

For the B2B publisher, one struggling with their management over their lack of investment in digital, this might be the way to get them onboard. One could budget for a new buyers guide, a smartphone and/or tablet directory, and build into the budget with its added revenue to costs for producing the new product. I’ve always found that the added revenue one promised usually made the pinch of added costs go away.

The next step is getting a major client onboard. This will be easier than you think. I found with the web, that our clients were far ahead of us when it came to digital. Going on sales calls in the late nineties, my reps would often cringe when I brought up the Internet with their clients. But inevitably the clients were anxious to discuss the web as their bosses were asking them about what they should do about the Internet.

“If you publish it,” a giant construction equipment company’s marketing manager told me, “we’ll be there.”

For the veteran B2B publisher, building a buyers guide is something they can do with their eyes closed. Now it is time to bring life to the old standard and bring them to smart digital devices.

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