Tuesday, February 05, 2008

But it was such a beautiful use of dead trees

The Annual Report—once a lucrative, sought-after design job—is dying and it's not because of cost-cutting or paper conservation or the rise of the internet. No. It's because recent legislation has made companies less eager to say anything that matters. The result: instead of reports, companies issue 10-K wraps that are "really nothing more than an artless data dump written for SEC lawyers." The goal now is "keister-covering, not communications."

Which might be OK except that for designers and writers, there's not much money in keister-covering: "Traditional annual-report managers at companies are more likely to use an outside writer and pay more for doing so than if they are merely churning out a wrap. The fee for outsourcing the writing of a traditional report generally ranges from $10,000 to $14,999; for a 10-K wrap, the fee is $5,000 to $7,500. Then you have to make the report look pretty. A majority of companies employ an outside designer, no matter the format. The typical design fee for an annual report is in the $60,000 to $80,000 range. The fee for a 10-K wrap is usually only $20,000 to $40,000. Minimalist 10-K wraps are exactly what investors get from two of the best-known New Economy companies, Amazon.com and eBay."

A 10-K wrap sounds like it would be briefer, maybe even easier to understand. But just the opposite is true: "Dominic Jones, the communications consultant, recalls fondly when 'companies made an effort to put on a show with a fancy annual report with lots of color and photos.' The commonplace 10-K wraps of today are hard to love, he says, because the SEC filings they reprint 'are horrible to read. They use an unfamiliar structure and nomenclature—and information design is virtually nonexistent. It’s even worse now because most people rely on the Web for their information. Reading online is 25 percent slower than on paper, not counting the time it might take to download a big annual report in PDF.'"

That's right. Writers and designers = clarity. Well-intentioned laws = confusion and worse—less money for freelance creatives.

[via Dealbreaker]

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