The U.S. printing industry has been without commercially produced, regionalized trade directories since the Graphic Arts Blue Books ceased publication in print last year. But, printers gazing wistfully at the empty space on the shelf where the old Blue Books used to go should dust off that space and keep it open—a new set of hard-copy purchasing guides is on its way from north of the border.

They’re called the Gutenberg’s Buyers’ Guides, and if all proceeds according to plan, the first of them should be in printers’ hands by the time spring has arrived. Behind them is North Island Publishing of Mississauga, ON, the publisher of Graphic Monthly and other B2B information products for Canada’s graphic communication industry.

There will be six U.S. editions of the advertising-supported Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides: Northeast, East Central, Southeast, Midwest, Southern Central, and West Coast. North Island Publishing’s ambition is to put 45,000 copies under the eyes of about 220,000 users in the year and a half it will take to roll the entire series out. The Northeast edition is due to appear around the middle of April, with the remainder appearing at three-month intervals after that.

Alexander (Sandy) Donald, owner and president of North Island Publishing, intends the Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides to be “the industry’s telephone books”: the resources that buyers of graphic arts products and services reach for when shopping for just about anything related to the operation of a printing company. The guides will be divided into 160 categories comprising 5,000 supplier listings, indexed both by category and by company name. There’ll be additional sections for paper samples and general reference information.

Unlike the Blue Books, the Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides won’t contain white-pages directories of printers by region. “Sending listings of printers to printers doesn’t make an awful lot of sense,” says Donald, who has been publishing the Graphic Monthly Estimators’ & Buyers’ Guides (without printer listings) in Canada since 1984.

Printers may obtain a free copy of the Gutenberg’s Buyers Guide for their region in exchange for company profile information that North Island Publishing can put into its directory database. Suppliers, who get free basic listings, are offered a variety of display advertising options from a rate card. Eventually, says Donald, supplier listings also will be available online at a Gutenberg’s Buyers Guide web site that’s expected to go live in a few weeks.

Because the perfect bound, 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" directories are the same size as many of the paper sample books that printers commonly use, Donald expects that they’ll be kept within easy reach in the same places where printers store the swatch books. After initial publication, he says, the guides will be continuously updated and re-released in new editions every 12 to 18 months.

How did a Canadian publisher open the door to the printing trade directory market in the U.S.? By listening to a pitch from someone who probably knows the former Graphic Arts Blue Books and their reputation in the industry better than anyone else: Carl Sartori, director of sales and associate publisher of the Blue Books until Reed Business Information (RBI) shut them down, along with Graphic Arts Monthly and a number of other titles, in a divestiture of its B2B publishing operations last April.

Donald says that Sartori, now the publisher of the Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides, approached North Island Publishing with a proposal for a new directory to fill the void created by the disappearance of the printed editions of the Blue Books, a standard industry reference since 1910. One thing strongly in the idea’s favor, says Donald, was the fact that there would be no technical wheels to reinvent—North Island Publishing already had the databasing and software assets needed to produce the kind of directory that Sartori had in mind.

Another was Sartori’s unexcelled knowledge of the print directory market and its advertising base. “We’re learning a huge amount from Carl,” Donald says. “If there’s anyone who understands databases of printers in North America, Carl is the master of that.”

Now it’s up to Sartori, who's based in Bloomfield, NJ, to turn that expertise into circulation numbers and advertising sales revenues for the Gutenberg’s Buyer’s Guides. As in the launch of any new publication, these are uphill challenges, especially in light of the fact that the first edition hasn’t yet appeared. “People are saying, ‘Let me see one, and then I’ll decide,’” Sartori says.

Being successful won’t mean that he'll have the U.S. graphics directory market to himself. Printing Impressions, for example, produces a yearly “Master Specifier” in print. Most of the other graphic arts trade publications offer buyers’ guides of one kind or another, as do some of the regional affiliates of Printing Industries of America (PIA).

And, the Graphic Arts Blue Book is far from being out of the picture. Earlier this week, a press release from the marketing services division of RBI spoke of “quietly revitalizing the printing, production and graphic arts community online” with a web-only version of the Blue Book that can be found at Printing Impressions and Graphic Design USA also are involved in the relaunch, according to the press release.

Given changes in marketing practices since the heyday of the original Graphic Arts Blue Books, some might even dispute the need for a buyers guide in printed form. Print was the obvious choice when printers and trade suppliers didn’t have web sites, search engines didn’t exist, and things like Google rankings and Facebook pages were undreamed of. Today, with all of them available as marketing tools to potential advertisers in the Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides, why do paper directories remain relevant?

“Because they work,” replies Donald, pointing to the Canadian printing industry’s continuing reliance on the Graphic Monthly Estimators’ & Buyers’ Guides as proof. As regionalized, print-specific directories, the Gutenberg’s Buyers’ Guides will lead printers to the products, services, and supplies they need without subjecting them to the information overload of online sources. That’s their key selling point, because in Donald’s view, “the Internet has a tendency of giving you a whole pile of garbage” at times when targeted, efficient searching matters most.

Sartori also believes that the industry retains a hard-wired desire for a hard-copy directory. “Think of who’s using it,” he says. “Most print shops have one to 19 employees, which means that in many facilities, the owner also cuts the paper, operates the press, does the books, is responsible for marketing, sweeps the floor, etc. The book is handy, and if their press breaks down and they’re covered with ink from their fingers to their elbows, I don't see them running into the office to find a press repair company online.”

The ink-on-paper format of a book, says Sartori, “is what printers work with all day long. They’re used to it, and they’re comfortable with it in their hands.”

The Gutenberg’s Buyers Guides promise to make it easy for printers, inplant managers and graphic arts buyers to find everything need within the comfort zone of their favorite medium. For more information, contact Sartori at 201-600-0080; [email protected].