Publisher turns niche directory into digital business
Directory products have helped to fuel the publishing business for decades, especially in the B2B space where data-driven buyers' guides and other compilations provide opportunities for advertisers to promote their wares. Many publishers, however, have struggled with the transition from print to digital directories.
One niche publisher, Incentives & Meetings International (I&MI) Media, has successfully turned its print directory of meeting and conference venues into an online, do-it-yourself workbook for event planners. And now, the France-based company is leveraging its homegrown technology into a new service for other publishers looking to create online directory products.
Turning information into digital revenue
Data-driven products are attractive to publishers exploring new ways to turn research, vendor listings or other proprietary information into a digital revenue stream. Companies such as CQ Press have launched subscription-based digital data products, while others, such as TechCrunch, use data to enhance their editorial content and drive more traffic to their websites. Still others, such as Consumer Reports, see data as valuable content for utility-based mobile apps.
I&MI Media, founded in 1994, built its business around a globally distributed directory of hotels, convention centers and other event venues. Called The Workbook, the print directory was published annually and featured paid listings used by event planners and other “destination management” companies in the MICE (meeting, incentive, congress and event) industry, according to Bill LaViolette, I&MI’s managing director.
At its peak in 1998, the directory contained more than 400 pages. But as the Web took hold and buyers began shifting their research activities online, I&MI’s print directory business waned. By 2008, I&MI had lost about 80 advertisers – “a pretty big hit,” LaViolette acknowledged.
Already offering some of its content on its website, the company made a bold decision: Kill the print directory and move everything to the Web. In August 2009, the company launched the DIY Workbook, a replica of the print directory with a key added feature: As the name implies, users could assemble their own workbook with just the pages – now in PDF format – that were of interest to them.
“It wasn’t a real hard leap to the digital side, because all of the data we used to produce the print publication was database-driven,” said LaViolette.
Advertisers who purchase pages in the directory gained key benefits as well: the ability to update their listing at any time along with support for live links and rich media such as Flash content. I&MI offers a variety of templates for producing PDF pages; each client maintains its own pages and can re-publish updated listings instantly.
Since launching the DIY directory in August 2009, the company has seen steady growth in its Web traffic. Unique visitors have increased 35%, page views have grown by 110%, and page views per visit have more than doubled from 3.7 to 7.7. Site registrations – a requirement of anyone using the workbook tool – have increased by 15-19% per month. Revenues from paid listings have increased by approximately 30% over the past two years.
I&MI has also added new products to the DIY Workbook mix. It now offers eBooklets that provide venue listings for specific countries, states or cities. The publisher also launched an RFP tool, called RFPlite, which lets event planners solicit quotes from hotels and other venues.
LaViolette also sees the potential for I&MI’s database technology as a solution for other publishers – which is why the company recently launched Silver Bullet Solutions, a white-label version of the tool that publishers can license to produce their own digital directory products. Pricing is based on a variety of criteria, including how suitable a customer’s data is for the database or the level of custom design required for the PDF templates.
“Many publishers have had to walk away from directories because they couldn’t figure out a way to change the delivery system,” LaViolette said. “We can take their data, format it nicely, add graphics, Flash content and links, and give them an instant directory to sell.”