Are Full Line Print Catalogs Dead?

Catalogs

Interesting question, isn’t it? Back when I started in the ad business (back in the stone ages), the full line catalog was not only your bible, but one of your largest marketing expenses. It would take months to develop, and as soon as it was printed, some items were either added or deleted from the line thus making the catalog obsolete. Sound familiar?

Of course the web changes all that, and with the advent of databases, it’s easy to keep your catalog current and for users to search for the products they need. I’d say that over the years, as companies added a digital catalog, print runs started to decrease on average of 25-30%.

Recently though (last 7-10 years), printed catalogs have been declining even more. Think of all the trees we’ve saved and the number of printers we’ve put out of business.

I recently read an article in Industrial Distribution magazine’s online edition that cited a study done by United Stationers that shows that end users preferences have changed to online.

Now you may ask what does a study by an office products company have to do with the industrial and construction market. Well let’s not forget that they also own ORS NASCO in the industrial sector and Lagasse Sweet in the Jan/San sector. I have to believe  the office products trends are not so much different from the markets we play in.

The study also showed that smaller, more single-category-focused printed pieces are on the rise.

Contractors and MRO professionals – they are/were still apprehensive about giving up printed material. I think that’s changing a bit. Let me clarify my statement.

Yes, the old timers (55 and older) probably prefer a printed book. But you might be surprised, at even that age group, they want current info and aren’t afraid to go on the Internet to at least find something. Let’s face it, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use Google.

Now distribution might be another story. Countermen, for sure, prefer the printed piece for day-to-day inquiries. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re in a distributor look at some of them.

Most of these contractors not only have access to computers, but have tablets and smart phones on job sites where they can access info immediately. So I’d feel safe in saying that most of us have some sort of online presence.

So if you buy into my premise, here are a few things you can do:

  • Create a digital strategy and fund it with the money you save from not printing all those full line catalogs.
  • Create single category pieces whether they are product or market focused.
  • Create good meaningful direct mail pieces that will inform and inspire your target audiences.

Do I think the print catalog is dead? No, but it’s on its last legs.

What are your thoughts?

 

2 Responses to Are Full Line Print Catalogs Dead?

  1. Printed catalogs are still great as “wish books,” providing serendipity by exposing customers to new products they’ve never heard of. However, a well-done online system is so much better when searching for what you know about already or for what you suspect you need. I am amazed that I still get massive printed catalogs from companies as diverse as ULINE and B&H Photo/Video. The B&H catalog is a great wish book, but it’s obsolete before I ever see it. Things move that quickly.

  2. Alan Sipe says:

    If you are selling parts, fittings or pieces of something it is clearly beneficial to your marketing budget and the environment to distribute fewer paper catalogs. However if you are selling “fun stuff” like tools a paper catalog is still very important. The tactile feel and the ability to leaf around randomly is still appreciated and creates interest. This gives the user a chance to stumble upon his next must have tool. The next step is to make your website easy enough to navigate that your prospect can easily learn more and finalize his purchase.

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