Where have you heard this before: “We are not moving with enough urgency!”?
I’m not going to bore you with the details of how many newspapers I read – suffice it to say, I subscribe to and read several papers daily, including the Wall Street Journal. As such, I was delighted several years ago when I came across the blog called Reflections of A Newsosaur, which describes itself as a place for “musings (and occasional urgent warnings) of a veteran media executive, who fears our news-gathering companies are stumbling to extinction”.
What fascinates me about this website’s “observations” are the parallels to the catalog industry. The catalog printers, the omnichannel data providers, and even our own catalog trade publications are always looking for any scrap of evidence to suggest the sky is not falling and that catalogs are still strong. It is sobering to get a dose of reality from another industry – newspapers – that are suffering in the same manner the catalog industry is. When you look at another industry, you realize the sky is falling.
Take a minute and read this recent posting on why Newspapers Can’t Dabble at Digital. It echoes many of the themes that I have been advocating (and others like Kevin Hillstrom) that catalogs are not moving quickly enough to embrace the digital consumer.
The posting recaps an internal 96-page report that was leaked from the New York Times, detailing how that venerable industry leader has failed to grow digitally, and how it has been “out-thought, out-promoted and otherwise out-gunned by the growing phalanx of digital publishers. Meanwhile, our journalism advantage is shrinking as more of these digital upstarts expand their newsrooms”. Sound familiar? Do you hear Amazon, eBay, Zulilly and now Alibaba knocking at your warehouse door?
Many of you are knee deep in planning your holiday catalogs. I’ve sat in on several catalog planning sessions lately, where the talk revolved around photo shoots for the catalog, pagination of the catalog, cover strategies, and obviously, circulation plans. But, as the New Your Times report stated, “We are not moving with enough urgency….we are focusing too much time and energy on Page One”. I rarely hear anyone address the digital side of Holiday plans, and when I do, it is almost always an afterthought.
Catalogs are just like the New York Times – there is no sense of urgency to think digital. One example from the report that struck a chord with me is the NYT “aims ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest print readership, but weekends are the slowest online”. That’s no different than catalogs waiting to introduce new products in their catalog, rather than getting them online as soon as they are available, because they want the catalog to generate excitement. Good Lord!
When we read reports like the one on the NYT, we shake our head and say “Yeah, I can see how newspapers are getting passed by”. We failed to recognize ourselves in this similar saga, or if we do, we excuse our catalog because we believe it is still “unique”, and think that this only applies to the other guy’s catalog.
The way to fix this is not to simply say, “well, we’ve got a website, we’ve got an email program, and we’ve got a mobile site, and we’re on Facebook, so we have all the bases covered, and that makes us a digital company”, (or worse, “that makes us an omnichannel company”). Having a mobile site does not make you an mobile marketer – it makes you a catalog from which I can order with my phone.
As you roll into your holiday plan, here are some ways to tell if you are thinking like an online company as opposed to being simply another catalog with ecommerce aspirations:
- Do you have at least twice the number of products available on-line for purchase than you do in your catalog?
- Do you ever keep any of your absolute best products out of the catalog, and make them web-only?
- Are more than 50% of your incrementally new customers being acquired with no help from a catalog?
- Have you done a hold out test to determine the percentage of on-line demand that comes from existing customer if you stopped mailing them a catalog?
- Do you spend the same amount of time and attention on updating your website as you do on paginating and creating your catalog? (I already know the answer on this one is “No”.)
- Are you creating separate web-driver catalogs targeted at specific portions of your file?
When you answer yes to all these questions, you are on track to avoiding the collapse that is so easy to see coming in the newspaper industry, and can easily be coming to catalogs as well.
As a final note, the posting on Newsosaur about the NYT report was on July 10. In his posting on July 16, Alan Mutter (the author) detailed some general statistics about the newspaper industry’s decline (worth a read here at The Newspaper Crisis by Numbers). He concludes that piece with this comment: “A newspaper executive told me a few days ago that some people in the industry hate my continuing coverage of the challenges facing newspapers. For the record, I don’t enjoy writing this stuff anymore than newspaper people like reading it. But I do it because I am trying to remind them of the urgent and formidable challenges they face in not just protecting their individual businesses but also in preserving the irreplaceable public trust that newspapers represent.”
I love catalogs, and certainly Datamann’s client base benefits from having a strong catalog industry, as does Datamann itself. But Mr. Mutter’s closing comment about the newspaper industry is a perfect encapsulation of why it is important we acknowledge and discuss what is happening in the catalog industry.
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235