Companies cut back on fancy annual reports

But making up for that cut in print, the company added video of its top executives on the site. Trading exchange International Securities Exchange also added videos of top executives in its interactive annual report, Ferguson says.

•Social responsibility reports. While companies cut back on printed annual financial reports, many are launching documents called CSRs that describe what they are doing to be respectful of the environment. Even these reports are seeing changes. Starbucks, sbux which has released a CSR document since 2001, made no printed copies this year for the first time.

That's not to say all companies are closing the books on elaborate printed annual reports. Plenty of companies, including IBM, ibm still produce lengthy printed annual reports, in addition to offering an online version, and consider it worth the effort.

IBM printed more than 1.3 million copies of its 2008 annual report, which was down from the 1.8 million it printed a few years ago, but still significant, says Terry Yoo, IBM's director of brand systems. "This is the one time for us to send something to stockholders," she says, adding that employees and customers often ask for printed copies. "We take it seriously."

So while some companies may decide saving money on print reports is most important, those that use print wisely may stand out, says Robert Louey, creative director at Robert Louey Design.

"This year was especially bad for annual" reports, he says, but adds, "Great annual reports always have a place."

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