In the first few years of the Internet, associations began flirting with the idea of getting rid of printed directories in favor on online versions. The reasons for doing so were easy to see:
- Printed directories are usually very expensive to produce and distribute.
- Printed directories are quickly less than 100% accurate.
In contrast, online directories have some clear cut advantages:
- Online directories are usually very accurate and up-to-date.
- Online directories have very low production and distribution costs.
- Online directories are searchable.
The most obvious objections to getting rid of the printed directory are that it is tangible, and it is easy to access, not requiring an online device. These objections have often been handled by noting that a member could print the results of the online directory query, although the formatting was usually less user-friendly. Moreover, some associations periodically post a pdf version of a printed directory that contains more user-friendly formatting.
All of those objections and answers aside, one of the more compelling reasons for continuing with a printed directory has often been overlooked: advertising revenue. In general, printed directories produce significantly more advertising revenue. More importantly, they often generate a higher net profit for the association than the online version.
The final answer lies with the individual association's financial results. If the printed directory produces enough net profit to justify the publication, it will likely continue. On the other hand, if it does not produce more net profit than an online version (or even runs a deficit), the association will usually drop it in favor of the online version. The reasons for dropping the printed directory will vary, but the bottom line usually comes down to an analysis of the net profit from the advertising.
What have you experienced at your association?