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Aug 15, 2018

The Benefits of an Online Annual Report

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by Gini Queen
So, your fiscal year end is going to be here before you know it, and the CEO has just asked you the question—you know the one— “So, what do you think of doing an online annual report this year?”
There have been some outstanding printed annual reports designed and produced over the years—some beautiful enough to don your coffee table. Yet, many more annual reports are hastily put together as a necessary evil, with minimal forethought, strategy or creativity. Yes, printed books still have their place, and, if properly executed, can be an extension of your corporate marketing/branding efforts throughout the year. But why not take those efforts one step further? You already have all the elements needed—they just need to be converted into an online forum.
A Few Online Annual Report Benefits At A Glance
  • Opportunity to save money
  • Opportunity to save trees
  • Alleviate worry of “page and/or word count limits”
  • Photos that aren’t high enough resolution for a printed book, are acceptable for online
  • Add “personality” by including video, sound, animation, interactivity
  • If a typo gets caught after publishing—immediate fix (instead of costly reprint)
  • Find out if your report is really getting read, and the specifics of which pages are being read the most
Some arguments against producing an online annual report
  • We’ve always done a printed book—it’s good enough
  • Our stakeholders expect a printed book
  • Our stakeholders are not very computer-savvy
  • It would be too expensive
  • We don’t have enough time; our webmaster is overwhelmed as it is
  1. (We’ve always done a printed book—it’s good enough.) These days “good enough” will leave you in the dust compared to your digital-embracing peers. Although the majority of companies who produce printed annual reports at least post a static PDF version of their printed book on their website, they bury it somewhere in a hard-to-find location within the “Investor Relations” section.  Depending on the design, the report may not be conducive to printing out from a PDF.
  2. (Our stakeholders expect a printed book.)Shareholders nowadays want to know not only of your company’s financial situation, but also sustainability and environmental efforts. Again, if your printed annual report can be, and is being used as a viable marketing tool, that’s great. But if it’s just providing your shareholders with all that dry SEC-mandated information with a full color cover, it may be time to think twice about spending the time, trees and money on only a printed annual report that is not offering anything beyond the yearly legal requirements.
  3. (Our stakeholders are not very computer-savvy.) In January 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that roughly nine of every ten American adults use digital resources daily. In 2000, the data showed less than 25% of individuals aged 65+ used the internet. By the end of 2016, that number was . An easy way to determine if an online annual report would be a viable option for your stakeholder base, ask them. You may be surprised by the results.
  4. (It would be too expensive.)Granted, some of the online annual reports out there are expensive—but others are chock-full of information and engaging content that are comparable in cost to what you’re spending on your printed book. If you want to take “baby steps” into the digital annual report realm, offer an expanded downloadable PDF version that has links to more information when viewed on a computer, can be accessed easily from a mobile device, and still looks nice (and is readable) when printed.
  5. (We don‘t have enough time; our webmaster is overwhelmed as it is.) If you are following online “best practices,” your website should already be the most current, up-to-date source for your company’s information—a lot of which can be re-crafted to include in your annual report. Think of an online annual report as an extension of your website. Use an established design firm who not only is experienced with annual report design in general, but are also experts in providing creative digital solutions.
     Provide them with the content and theme ideas, and let them do the heavy lifting. If you opt to produce a printed version as well as an online report, the design will be established for the “hard copy,” and then translated into a format for digital display. This is where you can really get the biggest bang for your annual report budget. Incorporate links and pop-ups with “deep dive” information that isn’t included in the printed book, as well as video clips, interactive graphics and animated charts to keep your readers engaged, without increasing the cost (or number of printed pages!)


There’s no way to measure what really happens to your printed annual report when it is finally received by your shareholders. What percentage of the book gets read? Were the readers provided with all the information they were looking for? Did the book even reach its intended destination?
Besides offering your stakeholders a quicker, more robust option to engage with your company, a digital annual report gives you the ability to really find out what’s most important to the readers of your report through analytics. Discovering the data for the pages people are clicking on the most and how long they’re staying on those pages lets you know if, and how much, your annual report is actually being read.

Online Options 

(listed in order of least to more expensive)
  • Interactive PDF of your printed annual report with embedded links to your corporate website and/or third-party sources
  • “Flip effect” interactive PDF—a true “online book” for those who still like to turn pages, posted onto your website
  • Dedicated microsite
Whether you venture into the world of online annual reports by introducing an indexed, link-enabled PDF version of your printed book into the mix, or you go “all in” with an interactive microsite, it will be a step in the right direction in demonstrating that all-important message of forward progress to your audience.