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SRDS' ELECTRONIC TRANSFORMATION PUBLISHER IS REPLACING PHONE-BOOK-FAT GUIDES WITH WAFER-THIN DISCS

By Published on .

Standard Rates & Data Service, once a sleepy little company cranking out telephone-book-size directories of ad rates, is now pushing rapidly into the electronic realm.

In the 10 months since SRDS, as it is now known, was acquired from Maxwell Communications by one-time Rolling Stone President James Dunning, the company has revamped a CD-ROM guide to magazine ad rates, announced plans to develop a site on the World Wide Web and committed to converting its rate books for other media to electronic formats.

"The No. 1 goal has been to refocus on the customer," said President-Group Publisher Wenda Harris Millard, who was recruited last year from publisher of Family Circle to join the $30 million company. "We've done what the industry calls re-engineering."

For magazine media buyers, SRDS is upgrading its quarterly CD-ROM product, the Electronic Media Kit Library, to incorporate audio and full-motion video. The new issue will go out to 15,000 people in late June.

Several heavyweights will appear on the CD-ROM for the first time, including Readers Digest, TV Guide and Sports Illustrated. They join titles ranging from Forbes to Architectural Digest.

The disc contains listings from 130 magazines, compared with nearly 10,000 in the print directories for business and consumer titles. Magazines pay anywhere from $2,500 to $35,000 to be listed, depending on the complexity of their entry.

Perhaps mindful of the experiences of Donovan Data Systems, which last year shut down Electronic Data and Rates, a rival CD-ROM media kit, SRDS executives say they will proceed cautiously and have no intention of doing away with the print directories for ad agencies that buy magazine space.

"Research shows us that most agencies have CD-ROMs, but the question is what portion of media buyers have them on their desks," said SRDS CEO Jill Smith, who joined the company from Boston-based management consultancy Parthenon Group shortly after the buyout. "The question of moving to the electronic form is a question of how and when users are ready and how and when publishers are going to be ready."

But the limited number of magazines on the CD-ROM is still a drawback to its widespread use, said Emily Swartzentruber, senior partner-New York media director at J. Walter Thompson USA.

"Eventually, I think everyone will be on it, but when the [CD-ROM] first came out, it was not very complete and therefore not very useful. They are still an anomoly."

For other agency executives, SRDS' electronic moves are a welcome shift.

"This place is geared around electronic intelligence. It can't go fast enough as far as I'm concerned," said Ira Matathia, managing director of the New York office of Chiat/Day.

On a broader scale, SRDS plans to open a site on the Internet by midyear that will include chat forums as well as association calendars and a posting of executives on the move.

For SRDS' Direct Marketing List Source directory, the transition to interactive will come online.

"We're planning to unveil a new online service in October at the DMA convention," said Ms. Millard, adding that she expects the electronic version to replace the six-times-a-year print directories eventually. Talks are under way with the major commercial services, but SRDS is also looking into developing a proprietary system.

SRDS also is planning to develop online extensions for the company's two other business groups-TV and radio stations-by yearend.

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