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Economic slump prompts shutdown of Thomas Global Register’s U.S. operations

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Thomas Publishing Co. announced last week that it was immediately suspending U.S. operations of Thomas Global Register, an international industrial directory. The Web site will remain operational through next January.

In explaining the closure, Thomas Publishing cited “the unprecedented global economic downturn and the decline in marketing investment worldwide.” It said it will continue to publish its individual country-oriented Web sites and directories, including ThomasNet.com; Thomas Register of Indian Manufacturers; Guia-NEI, a Web-based industrial directory for Brazil; and additional product Web sites in France, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

“This decision to suspend our U.S. operations after 10 years was not an easy one,” Jay Lindsey, president of Thomas International Publishing Co., said in a statement. “Thomasglobal.com has always strived to meet the highest industry standards, and we thank the many dedicated employees who helped us deliver on that goal.”

With its directories and trade publications, Thomas Publishing has long served smokestack industries. But even as it has focused on manufacturing, an economic sector that took hold in the 19th century, Thomas has developed a reputation for being forward-looking in terms of technology and globalization.

The company long published the Thomas Register, a massive, multivolume print directory of manufacturers. In offering the Register in CD-ROM more than 15 years ago, Thomas was one of the first b-to-b media companies to experiment with digital formats—experimentation that was driven in part by the company’s large print cost structure. Thomas was also one of the first nontechnology b-to-b media companies to move a print product to an all-digital format when it converted the Thomas Register in 2006.

The economic realities of its high printing costs and the reduced barrier to entry introduced by the Internet made Thomas Publishing’s directory business vulnerable. The company realized its precarious position and moved quickly to correct it, according to industry observers.

“It was essential for Thomas to adapt an Internet strategy early and to manage well, which apparently they’ve done. If they hadn’t, they would be out of business,” said Roland DeSilva, co-managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips.

Thomas was especially strong in converting its directory businesses online, but its track record in developing online strategies for its trade publications is mixed, industry observers say. Its Web tactics for Managing Automation are admired, but the performance of IEN, an industrial product tabloid and its Web site, was not strong enough for Thomas to keep the U.S. version of the publication operating.

Thomas announced it was shutting down IEN earlier this year, but shortly afterward a group including former employees bought the rights to the publication. They relaunched the Web site in June and plan to begin producing the print publication in September. “It’s proceeding on schedule,” said Todd Baker, one of the partners reviving the publication.

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