Smart PDFs.

An attractive feature of smart PDF annual reports for clients is that the familiar production process doesn’t change. As with printed reports, the content is finalized and confirmed before the PDF version is made “smart.”

A Transitional Solution Toward Full HTML Annual Reports

Craig Maguire
Executive Officer, General Solutions Inc., Japan
Manager, English Translation & Writing Department

Craig spent around 2 months at nexxar in late 2012 working on online annual report projects and research as part of the ongoing business alliance between General Solutions and nexxar. General Solutions is nexxar’s exclusive sales agent in Japan and has 30 years’ experience producing Japanese, English and Chinese language annual reports and other corporate documentation for its Japanese clients and is Japan’s No. 1 annual report producer.

Around three years ago we began researching online annual reports in earnest for our Japanese clients, after seeing a proliferation in HTML annual reports overseas, particularly in Europe. As you can see from this graph below, you could say that 2011 was the dawn of the online annual report era in Japan and 2012 saw a marked increase in companies producing online reports in various forms.

Historical development of HTML reporting in Japan

Source: Slide from seminar held by General Solutions in Tokyo in January 2013

Note: PDF refers to PDF only. Figures based on research of the top 600 companies in the market capitalization rankings of Yahoo! Finance.

Japanese companies were somewhat behind the curve, compared with overseas companies, as the slide below shows with Topix 30 companies. But they are rapidly catching up with the rest of the world and Thomas and his team at nexxar have helped with this process. In December 2011, Thomas gave a keynote speech at a joint seminar on how the web is shaping the future of annual reports, with a particular focus on full HTML reports. While we share nexxar’s view that full HTML online reports are the way of the future, hybrid HTML reports are tending to be more popular at present in Japan as companies carefully survey the shifting reporting landscape.

Development of HTML reporting since 2003 worldwide

Source: nexxar

One of the main reasons that full HTML online reports, with their obvious advantages such as enhanced searchability and data usage, haven’t taken off yet in Japan is that most investor relations officers have produced printed annual reports the traditional way for many years and suddenly changing the production process is a challenge.

After discussing this issue with many clients, we believe that we have come up with a solution for clients that will help with their progression ultimately to full HTML reporting.

That solution is smart PDFs. An attractive feature of smart PDF annual reports for clients is that the familiar production process doesn’t change. As with printed reports, the content is finalized and confirmed before the PDF version is made “smart.”

With smart PDFs, we take the traditional and mainstream portrait-style printed annual report and flip it on its side for easier viewing online. But rather than simply a PDF version of a traditional printed report, a smart PDF is designed with web-only features, as the name might suggest. These features include global navigation, the ability to expand and shrink diagrams and charts, search functionality, hyperlinks to other pages in the report and external pages from within the PDF, Excel data downloads and embedded video.

While there are still issues to overcome, such as the fact that all functions don’t work on iPads and smartphones, we believe that smart PDFs represent an easy and cost-effective way for our Japanese clients to make their first major steps into the world of online annual reports. We showcased a smart PDF we produced for SOFTBANK Corporation in 2012 at a seminar we held for existing and potential clients in Tokyo on January 15, 2013. Attendees were very interested in this smart PDF proposition. This report won a special prize in the online category of the Nikkei Annual Report Awards 2012 ( (Japanese only).

As I said earlier, we don’t see smart PDFs as the ultimate format for full-fledged online annual reports. But we do see them as a comfortable first step for many investor relations officers seeking to make the leap to online reporting. That being the case, we expect to see them become even more popular among Japanese companies in 2013. They could even be produced alongside full HTML annual reports to provide even more choices for report users.

If you are interested in exploring the production of a smart PDF with General Solutions for your company, please contact me at the following address for an information pack:


SoftBank Annual Report 2012


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