It comes as no surprise to find, therefore, that many companies that make a business out of gathering information for others have found life difficult. But one at least has turned the corner and in the process identified the interests and aspirations of some of the world's biggest corporations.
Euromonitor sells pounds 33.5m of market reports, books of statistics and tailor-made information packages annually to businesses and libraries across the world. 'Name a company and we have probably done something for it,' said the chairman, Robert Senior.
The reports are the main product for companies (the statistical books are designed for libraries) and analyse market conditions for broad product or service sectors, such as food and drink or a part of retail. They may include a review of the major companies involved at each stage and a country-by-country market analysis. Once established, a report will be updated annually.
'This kind of off-the-peg material is picked up on the periphery,' said Mr Senior. 'Companies spend a lot on research in-house and they buy these things to give an objective perspective: someone else's viewpoint.'
After being knocked back by recession, sales are now 35 per cent up on last year. This is the result, according to Mr Senior, of an improvement in demand over the last six months and specifically the company's response to a vastly increased need for international information. 'The UK-only market has virtually died and taken a lot of the small researchers with it,' he said. 'Everyone is thinking globally now.'
The developing markets - Eastern Europe, Latin America, South-east Asia and China - are the focus of attention. 'The biggest companies are all looking in these areas and the smaller ones are following suit,' said Mr Senior. The interest stretches, he says, way beyond the tentative enquiries of the late Eighties that bred any number of background reports. 'There is a lot of general information around on emerging markets, but not much hard market data. That is what people want now.'
Euromonitor employs 400 freelance researchers worldwide. The potential for vast inconsistencies in the quality of information has, however, led the company to increasingly favour in-house researchers and, where this is impractical, to structure training for those in the field. 'Product quality is a massive problem, to the extent that I can look at just about anything published by anyone and find fault with it,' said Mr Senior. 'To get something right we have to have a lot of in-house control.'
Accurate data with well- judged, valuable analysis is sufficiently rare to command very high prices. Euromonitor's premium Strategy 2000 range - the world toys and games industry with particular emphasis on major markets, for example - cost pounds 4,000 each. Mr Senior will be happy with sales of pounds 50,000 - about 12 reports. 'It is value not volume these days,' he said.
'The volume isn't there any more. This is another reason why smaller companies have been knocked out of the market.' The company decides which new areas to cover by canvassing its main customers - manufacturers - and by scouring newspapers for issues that concern business. One of its latest projects is, for example, food discount retailing, a source of great anxiety. There are failures of course: a report on the 'green' consumer sank like a stone.
Increasingly, companies are buying Euromonitor's reports on disk, which opens the possibility of updating reports. But Mr Senior believes this could undermine the value of the product: 'There is always going to be a publishing function,' he said.
'Our information is researched and considered. It is not just about giving people figures. It is all about analysis.'
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