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Print Dead? Not Yet!

November 27th, 2006 by Bob Bly

The worst thing about the catalog business is the cost of printing and mailing all those catalogs.

So you’d think that catalog companies would drive all their sales online, and cut back on or eliminate print catalogs altogether.

Not happening.

According to the Associated Press (11/26/06), L.L. Bean expects to mail a staggering quarter of a billion catalogs this year — up 50 million from the 200 million they mailed 2 years ago.

Reason: “It is the best way for us to get lasting impressions in front of our customers,” says Bean spokesman Rich Donaldson.

“Most customers hang onto catalogs for weeks, using them for reference, making them far more valuable than Web-based marketing,” concludes the AP report.

So are print catalogs here to stay?

Or is this only a temporary reprieve, until the generation being born today — who are growing up with computers and the Internet, not print, as their primary information source — comes of age?


This entry was posted on Monday, November 27th, 2006 at 12:09 pm and is filed under General, Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

43 responses about “Print Dead? Not Yet!”

  1. Tom Jones said:

    Hello Bob,

    I think print will always have its place. Apparently, IKEA (a furniture store) spend around 50% of their marketing budget on producing their catalog. They know it works. People design their homes using it.

    It’ll never be either Internet or Catalog, they’ll co-exist.

  2. Kevin Hillstrom said:

    Quantcast indicates that more than half of Bean’s online audience is over the age of 45. Undoubtedly, Bean’s catalog audience is even older. It is possible that Bean’s target customer is still responsive to catalogs.

    They don’t share what they are doing with page counts, maybe they will choose to reduce the size of each book but mail more frequently, costing them about the same amount of money.

    In my opinion, catalogs will be utilized more by retailers, as they shift money out of television/newspaper/radio. At some point, the generation of folks “raised on catalogs” will age, and be replaced by a generation of folks who are responsive to other forms of marketing.

  3. Sean Woodruff said:

    Well, I’m 40 and love my 3 L.L. Bean catalogs I receive weekly. Of course, on their list I would be considered highly responsive since I purchase quite a bit from it. Does it “count” as a catalog order when I see it in the catalog and then go online and purchase?

    I’m responsive to catalogs because I hate going to malls or stores. The time, the crowd, the incompetent help, the forced hours, the stupid music playing in the background, the lack of selection, the whole shopping trance… all of it just grinds me.

  4. Craig Hysell said:

    Since I don’t watch much television, do not pay attention to newspaper ads, throw out most things resembling direct mail pieces and delete anything that looks like spam on my email the only thing that captures my attention pretty much anymore is a glossy colored catalog. (For demographics sake I am a 31 year-old male.)

    Most of them I don’t look at, some I do, and since I hold the same opinion of shopping as Sean does, sometimes I even order from them. (Using their website once I have seen their product in the catalog as well.)

    Do they work? Apparently for some of us. Are they worth their cost? Apparently to L.L. Bean, Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret,, Gap, Banana Republic and the myriad others that send me them consistently and most of whom I don’t buy anything from. Are they going away? I doubt it. Companies are sending consumers color, glossy prints of their product that don’t need to be hidden in envelopes. And pictures are worth a thousand words. That’s nice.

    Which reminds me, has anyone seen my Victoria’s Secret catalog?

  5. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    They call Firefox, Opera and IE “browsers.” But nobody really “browses” on the Web. It’s clickety click and you’re gone. But a good catalog combines shopping, entertainment and information in a format that stays in people’s homes for months. Who of our generation hasn’t sat reading a Johnson Smith or Sears catalog and said “Hey, look at that!” Some of that aura still remains.

  6. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Plus shopping by catalog is MUCH faster than the Internet. You can make a quick phone call or fax an order in. (Many catalogs recognize existing customers calling from the same phone # – it’s often literally a 3-minute conversation.)

    Buying on the Internet at catalog companies tends to be A BIG PAIN! It’s SO SLOW! I’ve abandoned hundreds of dollars of on-line orders when the screen froze or I couldn’t really see the photo or I just got sick of clicking around. I either just waited for the next catalog or forgot the whole thing and saved a few bucks.

  7. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Like Sean, I hate shopping in stores (particularly this time of year). I tend to use the LL Bean catalog to make initial selections, then call, and talk to someone while I sit in front of the computer. The clothes tend to run big, so I need a live person for fit issues, and it’s faster to type item numbers into the online search box than to flip through a catalog. Then, I make the final order over the phone. I suppose that instead of multi-channel marketing, it’s multi-channel buying.

  8. Rick said:

    WANTED: Catalogs–Dead or Alive

    The question will always be how to get your sales information in front of as many eyeballs as possible with a stickiness that is on par with strawberry jam–they’ve got to like what they see! And give that warm fuzzy feeling.

    Catalog presentation evolves with technology. There is something about the smell of the ink in a slick, glossy magazine that a flat panel LCD lacks. When you discover something that you just have to have that page is easily torn and taped to the bathroom mirror or pinned to the bulletion board by your desk.

    Future generations may get arrive at that same visceral sensation from viewing a HD DVD on their 64 inch screen, then printing out a color copy of a selected page on a color laser printer. For my money the smells bring back pleasant memories of perusing the Christmas toy catalogs.

  9. Dianna Huff said:

    My nine-year old, who is glued to the all things electronic, will drop everything, including his precious GameBoy, when the LEGO catalog arrives. He positively drools over that thing.

    I, on the hand, throw away every single catalog that arrives. I hate them — the smell, the ink, the waste of paper, everything. My recycling bin weighs a ton on trash day during the holiday season.

  10. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Well, there may be some life still left in catalogs. I got an email from Marketing Sherpa yesterday describing how an online company decided to start mailing catalogs; and had to essentially re-learn everything they knew about marketing in order to make it successful.

    Here’s a summary, with a link to the full article. Note that access is free until Dec. 8; after that they ask for a fee to read it.

    >>SUMMARY: For many successful ecommerce sites, launching into a print catalog seems like the next easy step to ancillary profits.

    But, as anyone in the 100+ year catalog industry can tell you, creating a printed catalog that converts consumers into buyers is incredibly difficult. Here’s a real-life story of a catalog that failed … and how the marketing team turned it around with an extreme redesign:

  11. Jonathan Kantor said:

    I agree that there will always be a place for print, especially in retail catalogs. In fact, the nicer the catalog the greater the likelihood that you will hang onto it.

    I receive a catalog from a company called “Joon” that features sophisticated pens from $1000 to $10,000. What’s the chance I’m going to buy one of these — slim to none. But the catalog is so nice, I feel guilty throwing it away. If I were sent a similar colorful spam e-mail message, it would be too easy to click the delete button.

    Anyway, from a convenience standpoint, it’s a lot easier to fold the corner of a cataolog page, than it is to boot up your computer, and go back to a website to find the same item.

    Long live the catalog!

  12. Bob Bly said:

    JK: I am not convinced of the “always.” Always for US, yes. But what about people being born today and growing up in the 21st century, where computers, networks and the Internet reign supreme, and print is increasingly on the decline?

  13. Mike Knowles said:

    The advantage of the printed catalog is that it is browseable in a way not yet possible with a computer. Even the amazing epaper, while as readable as print, doesn’t lend itself to the kind of browsing I can do in a catalog.

    I’m thinking of one of the Territory Ahead catalogs I have stashed away (both for the swipe file and because it has an item I’m ordering for the wife). Sure, I could go to the web site, bookmark the page, and return for it later. But I tend to shop for the wife in rather random ways, based entirely on what catches my eye. It’s much easier for me to do that in a catalog or a brick-and-mortar shop.

    And let’s not even talk about cigar catalogs. My wife refers to them as “Mike’s Playboy magazines.”

    Could be my age, of course. But I watch my hyper-literate sons using computers regularly. My oldest son Bryan has over 200 people with whom he regularly corresponds via the Net. Yet when he’s home, it’s not unusual to see him browsing an catalog of Anime films or re-reading a book he’s read dozens of times.

    Still, what drives catalog production is use. And if people use the Internet more than other media, it shouldn’t be surprising to see print on the decline.

    I suspect print won’t go away entirely; it will be used where it works best. And demand will drive where it’s used. The printed catalog will be with us until such time as someone makes browsing online as effortless, convenient, and pleasurable as browsing a good catalog.

    Seems what’s happening is a sort of columnizing of information niches. If I know what I want and I want it now, I go to the Internet. If I’m browsing, maybe I go to the Internet, or maybe I browse the latest clothing catalog.

    Depends on how good the list brokers get at data collection and analysis, maybe?

  14. Hero said:

    I don’t think anyone of us here will see death of print. Actually we don’t know what’s going to happen.

    I’m running a web design – graphic design business. I’m helping people with their online marketing venture. Marketing an online business with print sounds funny but this is what we often do.

    There are many reasons for that.
    • To reach the target audience is not as easy as it sounds.
    • It’s so difficult to grab visitors attention online.
    • Online advertising rates are so high.
    • Pay Per Click is not a solution for most businesses, because click rates are upto $40-45 in some cases one click cost you $100.

    I think there’s advantages and disadvantages on both media and actually we don’t know what is going to happen. As I said I don’t think print is dying any soon.

  15. Rob Swanson said:

    I don’t think catalogs will ever die.

    I hate spam; it gets deleted without being read.
    I rarely open DM envelopes.
    Slick, pretty catalogs? I’ll at least flip through before tossing. While I won’t order from them, if I’m sufficiently moved, I’ll look on the web to order.

    Web-wise, I tend to know where I’m going, and my needs are simple enough that I rarely search online to buy anything other than books, and that’s in Amazon.

    I doubt I’m that unique. Print lives on!

  16. Patrice said:

    I spend a LOT of time on the internet but I like my daily newspaper too. One of the best things about it is sitting and reading with my husband. We share stories that we’re reading and learn what’s happening in our city. I cut out articles of interest for a second read.

    True, I could find this information on the internet but that tends to be a solitary experience. Reading the paper together is much more of a social ritual, similar to eating dinner as a family.

    Catalogs are sometimes better than the internet because the color is more dependable than what you get on a monitor. I also get warm fuzzies when I recycle by sharing with friends or recycling at the curb.

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