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Thomas plans to drop print directories

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The Thomas Industrial Network is now a dot-com company.

The unit of Thomas Publishing Co. announced recently that it will stop printing its multivolume directories, The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers and The Thomas Register Regional Buying Guides, both of which have been a staple for decades at industrial facilities around North America.

After 2006, Thomas, which was founded at the turn of the 20th century, will make these directories available exclusively online at ThomasNet.com.

"We’re a 106-year-old Internet company," said Linda Rigano, director-strategic alliances at ThomasNet.

"Our customers are telling us that what is most important to them is their online presence," said George Short, Thomas Industrial Network’s CFO.

Increasingly, users of Thomas’ directories were opting against the print format and for the online version because it offered search functionality, immediate access to vendor catalogs, direct links to vendor Web sites, e-commerce capability and a library of CAD drawings.

ThomasNet.com contains information on more than 650,000 manufacturers, distributors and service companies indexed by 67,000 product and service categories.

Thomas Industrial Network’s advertiser base also noticed the difference. "We don’t get too many leads anymore from the print [directories]," said Tom Fitzhenry, VP-sales at Minor Rubber Co. "It mostly comes from the online."

Thomas Industrial Network’s move was largely applauded. "They got the memo," said Tolman Geffs, managing director at media investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group.

Despite a reputation for being old school, Thomas Register has actually been a leader among traditional trade publishers in going electronic. Thomas was one of the first business publishers to offer a CD-ROM format, and it was also among the first to have a functional Web site up and running.

"We see it as a great move," said Leigh Watson Healy, chief analyst at research firm Outsell. "It’s kind of a no-brainer, a bold move and one that, if you look at their content and who their audience is, you wonder why they didn’t get to this point faster."

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