Towards a balance between supply and demand
Statistics Netherlands publication policy in the pipeline
Statistics Netherlands is currently facing the challenge of bringing its dissemination policy into line with users’ wishes as much as possible. This entails a corporate strategy which places high demands on the coherence of various statistics and encourages intensive co-operation between the divisions of the Bureau in cross-departmental and cross-divisional activities. Although this can partly be realised by continuing the present course, some adjustments to this course will also be necessary. This note pleads the case for more co-operation, enabling us to supply efficient and user-friendly publications and services, while at the same time offering an added value. The institution of a Publications Working Group is a means towards this end.
The note puts forward the proposal to divide theme publications into two categories: "push" publications, for promotional purposes among other things, and "pull" publications, which respond to users’ demands. The costs of making products for the former category should be compensated as much as possible, while the "pull" publications should in principle be completely self-financing.
Joint projects with commercial publishers are encouraged at all levels. Publishers have insights into markets and market segments and refined distribution channels for their products, and they may also be able to bear part of the financial risk. In order to avoid publishers being approached by different departments of Statistics Netherlands due to a lack of co-ordination within the Bureau, the Publications Working Group will examine ways of co-ordinating these contacts.
StatLine will become a very important factor in the dissemination trajectory. This medium will be used as much as possible to produce customised products and parts of or complete publications and as an information service. Our Internet site is soon to start a daily news magazine, and in addition the English edition of our website will be expanded gradually. Where possible and necessary, publications will be made available in electronic format (diskette and CD-ROM).
Existing publications will be evaluated periodically by the divisions. Reader surveys or reader panels with users can help to establish whether publications are viable and where there is room for improvement. Cutback plans will be drawn up for publications which are no longer viable, with printing on demand as an alternative.
The demand for information is growing, and this increase is accompanied by higher costs at our end. One way of turning this tide might be to introduce a special rate telephone number for information, at a reasonable rate for the public.
Promotional activities and advertising are expensive ways of drawing public attention to Statistics Netherlands’ products. The Publications Working Group will look into to how these channels can be used more efficiently.
Statistics Netherlands has long acknowledged that statistics can only be useful for society if they are accessible and up to date. Translating this acknowledgement into coherent actions, on the other hand, is a fairly new development for us. Although we are gradually coming to realise that customer-orientation and users’ wishes should be the underlying principle for how statistics are published, the supply approach is still very dominant within the Bureau: statisticians themselves judge how users want to have statistics presented to them and through which medium (on paper or electronically). Statistical divisions are constantly struggling to understand how best to make their information accessible; not only for traditional users, who use Statistics Netherlands’ tabulations as semi-manufactures for their own products, but for other user groups, who - it is true to say - require a presentation which entails more effort for design and analysis. In order to make the services of Statistics Netherlands more demand-oriented the whole dissemination trajectory needs to be adapted. In themselves, responding to the information demands of users and making use of popular information carriers do not make Statistics Netherlands an ordinary publisher. For where a publisher aims to maximise its profits, the role and function of Statistics Netherlands are laid down in the law. Statistics Netherlands has a legal duty to publish the results of its statistical programme. Its independent position means its is a sort of indisputable ‘national surveyor’ and therefore distinguishes itself from other suppliers of statistical material. And its ambition to achieve an efficient publication policy may therefore be at the expense of its primary role: serving a democratic society by making available authoritative figures for policy, practice and science.
This note looks into how the publishing activities of the statistical divisions has shaped the dissemination trajectory; it analyses present practices, discusses bottlenecks therein (Section 1) and makes proposals for improvement (Section 2).
It goes without saying that because decisions with respect to publication are taken decentrally, various criteria have been used for whether or not publication should take place. This open-ended arrangement resulted in the publication budget being overrun: by as much as 800,000 guilders for type setting and printing in 1996. To prevent a repeat of this in 1997 the following measures were introduced:
*) budgeting procedures;
*) regular publishers’ meetings;
*) standardised product types (corporate house style);
*) an improved management information system (sales and costs reporting)
1.3 The information process
Information that Statistics Netherlands collects can only start to mean anything when it has processed in such a way that it becomes useful and affordable statistical information. The information will serve no purpose for society if it is not opened up adequately and made accessible to users. But this is not all. Selecting, and thus attuning, information to the needs of users is the next necessary step to stimulate efficient use, so that the basic data underlying the statistical process are converted into useful knowledge for developing a policy, running a business or practising science. Statistics Netherlands has traditionally carried out several of the steps in this information process very well. However, the rub is the degree to which we think it is our job to offer products and services to specific groups of users. The main areas which demand specific information are policy development, various occupational groups, and specific markets and sectors of industry.
We can illustrate the position of Statistics Netherlands in its environment by a set of concentric circles (see figure 1). With Statistics Netherlands in the middle, the closest circle is a small group of intensive users such as government ministries, local government, institutes and other state institutions. Here we have some 2,000 to 4,000 users who use at least five products. The second circle contains institutions and companies with a relationship with Statistics Netherlands: private companies, intermediating agencies (libraries, publishers and data suppliers), hospitals, trade organisations, educational institutions, etc. This circle contains about 12,000 addresses. The third and outer circle encloses the general public, who are not all organised in societal groups. Naturally the boundaries between the circles are not completely sharp, there will always be overlaps.
1.5 The first circle
The first circle consists of institutions which all make use of the full arsenal of data regularly produced by Statistics Netherlands to develop and monitor policy. These users are usually perceived to be ‘heavy users’, who are interested in a broad package of services. Some are important stakeholders, who analyse our information further, enrich it and make it available to society for other purposes. We may assume that the users in this circle are interested in the quality, consistency, completeness and timeliness of Statistics Netherlands data and place less value on design and presentation. They ‘consume’ tabulations, visit Statistics Netherlands website and StatLine and have an undiminished high interest in theme publications.
1.6 The second circle
The second circle contains users whose activities usually do not always require Statistics Netherlands input. Moreover, the users in this circle are so diverse that it is difficult for Statistics Netherlands to identify groups of users with common characteristics and wishes. The largest groups contain a few hundred addresses. According to an analysis carried out by our marketing department, based on available information and sales figures, this group is less likely to find tabulations useful and would be better served by customised products and theme publications.
At the moment users in the second circle are approached in different ways by different divisions, depending on the policy of the division (and sometimes even of the department) of Statistics Netherlands concerned. Sometimes staff just assume that there is a market for a certain product or service and then hope that their assumption will be justified in practice. Often no market research takes place. Some divisions try to market a product jointly with external parties, publishers for instance. This approach is not always a success either: the lack of co-ordination within the Bureau sometimes leads to publishers being contacted by people from different divisions within Statistics Netherlands on one and the same day, to propose a coproduction.
1.7 The third circle
The third circle contains the general public, whether organised or not. They are usually passive receivers of Statistics Netherlands information. The nature of Statistics Netherlands’ products means that widespread dissemination by way of millions of folders is probably just a waste of time and money. Such dissemination procedures are only useful when accepted government policy which has consequences for individual citizens need to be explained to the public (e.g. new regulations for rent subsidy or changes in the study grant system) or if the government wants to inform the public in order to change there behaviour (smoking is bad for you, don’t drink and drive). Statistics Netherlands’ uses free publicity by actively approaching the media.
Every day hundreds of people from this third circle call the general information desk and the information desks of the statistical divisions. However, it is difficult to man the information telephones adequately, mainly because of the increase in the number of incoming calls.
1.8 New media
Electronic information carriers (CD-rooms and diskettes) and the Internet are beginning to bear fruit as distribution channels. Thousands of ‘surfers’ visit Statistics Netherlands website regularly and many of them make use of the e-mail facilities to communicate with the Bureau. However, making publications for the digital highway requires special skills and expertise. It has become apparent in practice that offering publications via the Internet does not mean that the paper equivalent can be removed. Some users are not connected to the Internet and wish to continue to receive the paper publications. The Internet is also an extremely convenient way to reinforce the international reputation of Statistics Netherlands. This means that the range of English language publications must be considerably increased. Co-operation with Dutch embassies abroad and via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has proved very useful for dissemination purposes. Such contacts are also useful to gauge the demand for information. In addition publications on CD-ROM and diskette also require our attention, a number of publications are very suitable for these carriers.
2.1 From push to pull
In opening up its statistics, Statistics Netherlands wants to reach society as a whole. The results of statistical research should be analysed and edited in such a way that they become meaningful and as it were invite people to use them for purposes of policy, science and in practice. The extent to which this principle is put into practice is determined by practical demand from society, promotional considerations and the financial possibilities of Statistics Netherlands. If we really want to listen to what users want, we must unavoidably focus more. Complying with what users want means that our output is driven by demand (‘pull strategy’). Producing publications on the basis of available statistical material means that the output determines what is published (‘push strategy’). Since the TEMPO reorganisation, the focus has been shifting from push to pull. Trend development should be continued and reinforced.
Naturally, this shift in focus has consequences for the whole production process. The departments must start thinking at an early stage about the design of statistics and how the information collected will be opened up and used. Fulfilling users’ wishes by offering products combining data from different divisions means that divisions will have to co-operate more often and more intensively than in the past.
We expect that users will increasingly appreciate the possibility of receiving information in electronic format. Re-use of table and graphs will be considerably stimulated in this way. It is therefore very important that statistical divisions pick up on this development in an early stage and make the necessary preparations. In the short term, offering electronic publications will not always lead to discontinuing their paper equivalents. Moreover, an institution like Statistics Netherlands which wants to reach all of society must continue to offer a balanced mix of products and services, and thus a variety of information carriers.
2.2. Points of action
2.2.1 Towards a demand-driven output
For a demand-driven output it is important that departments, division publishers and marketing managers have the necessary market information at their disposal to be able to have an effective insight into the demand for planned products or services beforehand. In the first half of 1998, an inventory will be made of all user, product and market surveys that have already been held at Statistics Netherlands. On the basis of this inventory we shall be able to see whether supplementary surveys are needed. The size of the target group and the demand for information are the main criteria . If the target group is large enough, while the information they need requires combining our data with that from other sources, it would seem logical to try and realise a coproduct with an external publisher or trade organisation. It would in any case be useful to take the possibility of co-operation with a party outside Statistics Netherlands into consideration.
2.2.2 Evaluation of existing publications
Statistics Netherlands publishes weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual periodicals as well as incidental one-off publications. In addition it publishes theme publications with data from various sources set alongside each other. The existing monthly and quarterly publications will be examined in the light of their viability as independent publications. Those to be discontinued will require careful cutback plans. Information included in these publications could be published in the weekly Statistical Bulletin, in Index or as other publication forms such as brochures or in external trade magazines or professional journals. If necessary the Statistical Bulletin can be expanded to publish tables that would otherwise be included in the periodicals. The scope of Index is such that it is very suited to illustrate figures in their context. The use of professional journals is encouraged, although care should be taken with the ‘exclusive’ designation when publishing statistics.
There are two groups of theme publications. The first fall under the so-called ‘push’ strategy and are subjected to other procedures than publications in the second, ‘pull’ strategy, group. For the latter group it is the responsibility of the statistical divisions themselves to determine their policy on the basis of needs in the market.
‘Push’ publications are selected on a number of principles. First of all they constitute a means of expressing the identity Statistics Netherlands wishes to convey: an institution which, as a sort of ‘national surveyor’, provides indisputable figures, for broad segments of the public, aiming at coherent presentation and paying much attention to their accessibility. Sober but modern design guarantee respectability and attractiveness. The underlined words in this paragraph show that some existing theme publications are exactly suited for inclusion in the push group. These are also the publications that can play a large part in public relations.
The role of commercial publishers for the push publications can be restricted to that of distribution. The procedure described in section 2.2.3. is applicable for this group of paper theme publications. A certain amount of funds are reserved for the extra costs incurred by producing these publications; this is fixed annually by the Director-General. The board of directors decides which publications are to be included in this group.
Theme publications in the second group (the ‘pull’ publications) should be produced as much as possible in co-operation with, or at the request of trade organisations. It is also conceivable that such publications are produced at the risk of publishers. The divisions determine which thematic publications are to be produced in the second group. In principle, these publications are cost effective in that they finance their own existence, and when published by Statistics Netherlands, comply with house style regulations. Although the working group may well reach other conclusions, here is an example of what the first group of theme publications could consist of:
*) Statistical Yearbook
*) the Economy of the Netherlands
*) Distribution of Wealth in the Netherlands
*) Environmental Statistics of the Netherlands
*) Employment and Education in the Netherlands
The other theme publications include in principle both the B5 format publications of Statistics Netherlands and all co-publications with outside publishers. For example:
*) Automation in the Netherlands
*) Agricultural and Horticultural Statistics
*) Daytime Recreation
*) Knowledge and the Economy
*) Holidays of the Dutch Population
*) Emancipation Yearbook
*) Fire Services Statistics
*) Inland Shipping Statistics
*) Immigrants in the Netherlands
*) Municipal Population Trends
*) Investment Yearbook
*) Housing Yearbook
*) Poverty Monitor
As theme publications cover a wide variety of topics it is very important to have good co-ordination procedures within Statistics Netherlands. This co-ordination takes place in the Publications Working Group. This working group discusses the proposals of the divisions who want to start new publications or discontinue existing ones. They can also take on board product innovations which have been initiated but not yet realised. The interdepartmental nature of the working group prevents divisions launching new products on the market when it might have been wiser to include the information in an existing publication of another division. With a view to the importance of this interdepartmental monitoring function, the working group will be a heavyweight, consisting of representatives of all publishing divisions. The working group will advise the Committees on Marketing and Sales and on the Statistical Programme. The Board of Directors will ultimately decide which theme publications will be included in the first group. In order not to diminish the divisions’ powers of decision, the division mangers retain their authority to negotiate with interested parties for theme publications (in the second group), the most important principle being that they are cost effective, that is they must make enough to cover the costs of typesetting, printing, promotion and distribution. The working group members will be informed of proposals regarding such intentions.
2.2.4 StatLine as publication medium
StatLine has a strategic position in the publishing trajectory. A well-filled and transparent database, which can be accessed through the Internet makes it possible for users to obtain answers to specific questions. But a well-filled and accessible StatLine will also require changes in how users’ questions are dealt with within the Bureau: who will answer e-mail queries? Will there be a charge for e-mail answers? If so: how much?. Moreover, StatLine can only play such a pivotal role if all the information it contains is up-to-date and reliable and if the staff supplying the information have sufficient output tools to answer one-off questions or provide - within limits - tailor-made information. StatLine should be able to supply a larger diversity of - partly customised - products. Regular feedback by way of information registration, and StatLine search counts should be able to provide an insight into the demand for these products. These products, too, fall under a the ‘pull’ strategy.
2.2.5 Product innovation
Reader panels, in which user groups are represented, can provide supplementary information on the quality of the content, editing, design and the medium of the publication. In addition to reader feedback, peer refereeing and comments of interest groups are important sources of input for product innovation. An adequate complaints registration system may also be useful to generate new ideas and learn from past mistakes. Existing theme publications should be evaluated yearly, new theme publications must be given the chance to prove themselves on the market. In principle a new publication has three years in which to prove its right to exist.
2.2.6. Collaboration with external publishers
Existing relations with publishers are based on ad hoc contacts, not on a collective Bureau wide approach. We assume that publishers are the best people to reach groups of users which fall outside our reach. They are also better equipped to combine our data with information from other sources to make new products which meet the requirements of professional users more, for example. In such cases, we can discuss with these publishers the best way they can use our material. Where necessary, we can use existing contacts with publishers to draw attention to areas of interest of which we have noticed exist, but which we cannot provide for. Future negotiations with publishers about new arrangements should result in deals which include cost aspects, access to user information, and Statistics Netherlands input in the product evaluation.
Contracts should be made with publishers and Internet providers who are interested in Statistics Netherlands’ website and in StatLine. The same is true for umbrella organisations (trade organisations, for example). In this way we have is negotiating partner, who in turn can serve hundreds of clients through an interesting contract. Co-productions with information media of external parties with a sound reputation and a substantial print run (professional press, economics journals, trade organisation periodicals, etc.) should be encouraged. Statistics Netherlands regularly receives requests for publication in journals of reputable institutions. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement: the taker of the initiative gets a reliable story, and Statistics Netherlands gets another distribution channel. In practice, however, such collaborations are not often realised, as the statistical departments set other priorities. Division managers are invited to encourage their staff to publish in these journals. Here too: costs, access to user information and input in the evaluation should be included in the negotiations.
In the contacts with both publishers and editors of professional journals it is very important to co-ordinate to a certain extent. The working group mentioned in section 2.2.3 collects information on planned activities and co-ordinates them when more than one sector is involved with the same external person or company. This will be elaborated on when the responsibilities and status of the working group is discussed.
The realisation of output tools for StatLine will reduce the high pressure of work for the staff who provide information by telephone. The introduction of a special rate phone number might serve to raise the threshold for calling, although students who make use of the telephone information services may be inordinately affected by this measure. A special Internet page is currently being made for students, which they will be able to log into through libraries and educational institutions.
Advertising is a means of bringing publications to the attention of professionals and those in general public who are difficult to target in any other way. In the past Statistics Netherlands has been very conservative in its advertising policy, partly because of the high costs involved. In some cases drawing attention to certain products and services of Statistics Netherlands by way of advertisements may result in an increased use.
As it is obviously a good thing for Statistics Netherlands to have a reputable image in society, many other means must be used to bring the Bureau and its products to the attention of as many people as possible, although we should make sure that we do not release information in such a way that our desired image might be harmed. This quite often occurs in press releases. Means which can be used include Teletext, the Internet, press releases, co-operation in radio, TV and newspaper interviews, the Statistics Netherlands catalogue and press releases on the contents of Index. Finally, Statistics Netherlands is accountable to the public and thus has a duty to report annually to that public.
Publication criteria at Statistics Netherlands
The document Towards a balance between demand and supply examines the significance of common criteria in the production of publications. Clear criteria are an advantage for direct dissemination and make an important contribution to cost control. Moreover, they can help divisions answer the question of whether it is worthwhile marketing a product. Statistics Netherlands uses the following criteria:
1. What is the purpose of the publication?
2. Should it be produced at Statistics Netherlands?
3. Which product formula should be used?
4. Is there enough demand?
5. What is the target group?
6. Are there similar products on the market?
7. What is the print run, the format, medium, sales price, number of pages?
8. How will it be distributed?
9. Is promotion necessary?
re 1. If the data are already published in StatLine, the department should ask itself whether an additional publication form is necessary. For example, the purpose of the publication may be to increase the use of statistical material by supplying custom-made information for a specific user group. Increasing the product mix for users who want more or different information than they can get in StatLine may be a consideration in this respect. Another argument is the production of publications to fulfil a special purpose, for example to disseminate knowledge on methodological aspects.
re 2. Should the publication be produced at Statistics Netherlands from the point of view of efficiency and financial risk, or should it be a co-produced with an external publisher for example.
re 3. Is it a one-off or a periodical product? Is it one in a series? Deluxe or camera ready? What is the best medium: paper or electronic?
re 4. Insight into the demand for the proposed product is very important. A survey of literature or analysis of Statistics Netherlands registrations may improve this insight. Information from collaborators (publishers) or trade organisations may be useful. Moreover information from the field managers may also be useful.
re 5. Knowledge of the size and composition of the target group is necessary. Where possible, potential clients should be identified beforehand.
re 6. Analysis of the competition reduces the risk of the product being a non-starter because there is already a similar product. The chances of success improve as the added value for the customer increases.
re 7. The costs incurred in making the product must be kept under control and be covered by product sales. Therefore we need an insight into the size of the group, the price setting, the print run, the format and the medium. Exceptions to this rule are promotional products and methodological publications.
re 8. Producing a publication on our own account nearly always means that the division is responsible for the distribution. This requires very thorough preparations; a distribution plan must be ready well in time. If a product is realised in co-operation with or at the request of a publisher, then the distribution channels of this publisher can be used.
re 9. Promotion is an important means of drawing attention to a product. For new products in particular, promotion can contribute to a product securing a segment of the market. However, promotion is not cheap (colour folders, direct mailing, advertising). Up to date address lists are vital for direct mail campaigns. However, free publicity, in the (professional) press by way of press releases, is also worth considering.
re 10. When the publication date is known, the timetable for editing and production can be drawn up in consultation with the printers or producers of the electronic medium. For co-productions between different divisions or with external partners, a detailed project plan should be drawn up, setting concrete deadlines and a division of tasks. Time should also be taken well in advance to think about the best way to present the product (press release, congress, seminar).
re 11. It is difficult to determine beforehand when a product can best be evaluated. Some products can be assessed after three months, for others this will be too short a term. It all depends on the aims of the product as defined at the beginning of the process.