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You Won’t Find This Article On Any Catalog Printer’s Website

Here is the latest post from our friend Bill Lapierre. We think you’ll find this interesting, even if you don’t currently use catalogs as a marketing channel.

You Won’t Find This On Any Printer’s Website

I started out the year with a critical review of the co-ops. No let’s talk about the printers.
I critiqued a local B2B catalog company’s catalog last week, and showed them how they could easily reduce the number of pages by 25%, simply by making some basic creative changes, which I knew would have no impact on sales. Since the changes would actually make the book more readable, response rate might even go up.
Why hadn’t their printer ever pointed this out?
I doubt there is anyone in the catalog industry that has not seen the article that was in the Wall Street Journal back in April on Why Online Retailers Mail So Many Catalogs (click here). I received links to the article from just about every printer in the industry, along with comments along the lines of “see, I told you catalogs were not dead”.
Over the past month, I’ve noticed the article posted on many printers’ websites and it has been re-posted ad nauseam in their blogs, this despite the fact that the article clearly states that 40% fewer catalogs were mailed in 2013 than in 2007. But the printers see this article as sort of a vindication/validation for their efforts to keep mailing by the ton.
I’m a hard copy subscriber to the WSJ, and as I recall, this article got great play on the front page of the fourth section. A big splash. I was thinking about this article over the weekend, and went back to check on who wrote the article. That’s when the light bulb went off. This article was not written by one of the business reporters – it was written by the reporter that covers fashion, beauty and lifestyle. And, knowing how well many of Datamann’s clients do with getting fashion articles published about their brands, I realized that this article was probably the result of some intense PR efforts on behalf of a printer, the paper industry, or a combination of the two.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But I fail to see the benefit to the industry of telling the general public that catalogs are not dead. Is that somehow going to change customer behavior?
The USPS announced last week that they lost $1.9 billion during the second quarter (the 20th out of the last 22 quarters that they have incurred a loss), which gives you have a very different picture of the catalog industry than that mentioned in the WSJ article. (And contrary to the headline I chose for this blog, the printer RR Donnelly did have the article about the USPS loss posted on their website – but RR Donnelly has always been good about presenting industry news, good or bad.)
No, catalogs are not dead. But the likelihood that overall catalogs mailed will ever see an increase instead of decrease over the prior year are about as likely as Richard Nixon making it onto Mt. Rushmore someday. It just ain’t gonna happen.
Just since I started in the catalog industry in the mid-1980s, many of the major catalog printers have disappeared, including Foote and Davies, American Signature, Banta, Spencer Press, and most recently Brown. Most have been bought and merged with the few survivors. Moreover, with all the management departures from Arandell in the past few weeks, can their survival be counted on for much longer?
There are two giant players left – Quad and RR Donnelly. Yes, there are a few good solid smaller catalog printers like Dingley and B&W Press, along with smaller commercial printers that can handle small B2B runs of under 100,000. But the majority of activity is now concentrated in a few hands. This is a dangerous omen for the catalog industry, just as it when the list brokerage business died and companies like Mokynski, Direct Media and Millard Group disappeared.
The reason is that the printers have a vested interest in having you mail by the ton. Any company whose business model is based on buying paper in rail cars only wants you to print more and more. In that regard, they are similar to the co-ops. The co-ops could supply you with more responsive names. They could even supply you with fantastically performing names – but that is not how their business model works. They sell names by the ton, just like the printers print by the ton.
This next part may seem self-serving, but that ever increasing push to get you to mail more is one reason most catalog companies still use a service bureau like Datamann, or one of our competitors. We have a vested interested in seeing you mail smart, not necessarily mail more. A few printers are now venturing into service bureau activities like merge purge. In some cases, they’ll do the merge almost for free. That’s fine if you have one or two lists of 10,000 names each. But in the instances where I know mailers have ventured in that direction, there is no effort on behalf of the printer to help you mail smart – only mail more. Service bureaus like Datamann build databases that help you control the number of customer and prospects you are mailings – that’s not something the printers will help you with.
What difference does this make to you? The printers in my opinion get away pretty easy. Next to postage, your printing expense is your biggest catalog marketing expense. Your service bureau fee (what you pay a company like Datamann) and your list rental fee (what you pay your broker) are relatively minuscule in comparison. But you always expect your broker and people like me to solve all your response and cost problems, while bringing you strategic growth ideas.
We don’t mind – that’s what we get paid to do. We provide circulation planning, merchandise analysis, creative critiques, and catalog survival strategies. But I rarely see any mailer ask the same from their printers. You expect your printer to print a nice, clean book and get you co-mail savings. But you should also be expecting your printer to help you trim pages and cut circulation. (I know – blasphemy). Instead of running around telling everyone that catalogs are not dead, printers should be helping their clients with strategies beyond doing matchback (gee, guess what that shows catalogs ought to do?), and testing new paper weights. If we are going to succeed as businesses in the future without catalogs, we have to start by thinking about life without a catalog.
Put pressure on all your vendors and suppliers – including the printers – to provide new ways of growing, without simply mailing more by the ton.
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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