I Miss Paper Catalogs

Josie Leavitt -- May 23rd, 2012

It’s true: I miss the pounds upon pounds of paper catalogs that I used to get every season. Yes, I hated the waste of them, especially when I’d get three sets of the same catalog. Recycling them was a pain in the butt. But I’m learning that there’s nothing like a good catalog. I figured out why this is. A well-done catalog is a lot like a good magazine and it harkens back to another time.

Sitting in the evening perhaps while watching TV, it was very easy to pick up a catalog and thumb through it and make notes. I could pick it up and just as easily walk away. All I had to was just dog-ear the page and come back to it later. It’s considerably more complicated now with the advent of Edelwesis, the on-line ordering system that works with more than 40 publishers, including most of the large houses. I also love Edelweiss, well, parts of it at least, and this is the conundrum for me as a buyer: I have one foot in paper and one in electronic, and each is lacking.

Edelweiss’s order entry ease is worth its weight in gold. No longer does it take hours typing in ISBNs from the paper catalog into your computer. An entire frontlist order can go into your system literally within minutes, thereby saving you heaps of time.  The ability to see and order backlist titles along with the frontlist can make for more intelligent ordering, especially if your store uses Above the Treeline which can show sales numbers for authors, titles, etc. The supplemental information is lovely, but often I don’t read it. You can’t skim in Edelweiss and that is a problem for me.

There is a leisure with a catalog that I don’t find with any computer-based online ordering system. Perhaps it’s me, but I cannot do computer orders during the workday.  The ordering happens during off hours, at least for me. I’m finding that during those off-hours, I do not want to spend even more time in front of a computer screen, even if I’m happily watching The Deadliest Catch and could be doing something else as well.  The paper catalog can follow you around the house from the tub to the kitchen when you’re waiting for water to boil. These are places my computer seldom goes.

I’m thrilled for savings in trees and paper waste. I know it makes more sense to deliver the catalogs electronically with their instant updates. Every add-on and cancellation shows up in Edelweiss. But I’m surprised at the real melancholy I have when I have to order on the computer and can’t just thumb through a catalog, mark it up  and then talk to my rep to make the order. Yes, I still talk to reps, just not as often; some I haven’t actually spoken to in a year.

So, what can I do? Well, I’m not sure, since a year ago I was heralding the demise of the paper catalog. I guess I will have to muddle through and savor the few catalogs I have left to see, and stop complaining about the computer ordering and really make it my friend.

15 thoughts on “I Miss Paper Catalogs

  1. Al Krysan

    We still publish a catalog and would not be in business without! We’ll be happy to send all you catalog lovers a copy! Request one at http://www.finneyco.com. I agree, as a niche publisher and distributor we find it difficult to find new titles from our vendor/publishers who point us to their web site – we often find out about new titles when customers ask if we carry them and can get them for them!

  2. JoSVolpe

    Ah! I absolutely agree, though I don’t use the catalogs for the same reason as you. And to be honest, because I don’t have an inventory to fulfill, I often end up not looking through the catalogs at all (or only so briefly), which is not good news for an agent. Not only should I be checking to see if my clients’ books are listed correctly, but I should be looking at what else is selling, what the big books are, what the special books are, etc. And I also can’t tell you how often it led to me discovering a book I wouldn’t otherwise have found.

    I remember when I first started in publishing, my boss gave me a big stack of catalogs and said “If you want to learn what each imprint and house is about, study these.” She was so right! I have since made interns and new assistants do the same, but that big stack has dwindled down to just a handful.

    I suspect that what you’re feeling is what I’m feeling about editing and reading. I do so much of it on the computer that when I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit down at that screen again. I used to edit and read on paper, and those bundles followed me around the house until I was done. I also still find that I edit better on paper–I miss much less. Whereas on a computer screen, it’s easy to read over things sometimes (also, exhausting to sit at a desk ALL day).

    I suspect we’re all feeling this in the industry, in one way or another.

    Great post–thanks for sharing!

  3. Peter Glassman

    I will not buy without a paper catalog. I spend enough time on the computer already (so why am I posting here, you ask?). But more importantly, I cannot color flag a computer catalog with post it for use in planning events, or to remind me to include it in our next email or catalog. We have an active website, but still nothing boosts our sales like dropping a catalog in the mail. It’s rather sad that publishers don’t understand what an app developer stated clearly when interviewed on television at last year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas: “Nothing can beat the intuitive nature of printing on paper.” Technology is for doing things that paper can’t do. Just because you can make an electronic fork doesn’t mean you’d want to eat with one.

  4. Retha

    Thankfully I am not alone!!! I love my catalogs and my eyes will take no additional computer work. Remember catalogs do not have to be in full color on slick paper – print them in black and white, on newspaper stock, but just give me the tools to work with. I know orders are bigger when I have the right tools to work with and not 6 more hours on my computer!!

  5. Kate Reynolds

    Josie — I feel your pain; I too find it harder to do Edelweiss at home on the couch. On the other hand, if publishers are going to insist on digital catalogs having one system for everyone is a godsend. I just started using Edelweiss with my new iPad, and that shows real promise for being more couch-friendly.

    I’m working on a presentation for the NAIBA Trunk Show about how booksellers and reps can get the most out of Edelweiss, and I’d love to hear more advice from experienced users.
    Kate Reynolds
    Colgate Bookstore

  6. Carol B. Chittenden

    We’re having awful snarls in downloading the Edelweiss data into our inventory system, and it’s costing us hours and hours of extra, very tedious work with every order. Eventually I trust that will be cleared up. But what I miss the most is that the staff has always loved doing catalogue entry, because it gives them a first look at the forthcoming books.

    Relief from the waste almost — but not qutie — makes it worthwhile. If I had wifi at home and could do part of the work there, it would sure be easier.

  7. Michael Neill

    Every retail congomerate has a website for discovering and ordering product. Yet, my physical mailbox at home remains as full as ever with paper flyers and brochures to get my attention and dazzle me. Obviously, this medium is still worth a lot in sales to those retailers. The move to e-catalogues only is a huge mistake that I suppose will have to be learned the hard way. Electronic catalogues are a great new thing, and I plan to make extensive use of them for the same reasons others have stated. But, in order to sell me on something I might otherwise easily pass on or miss, I need a catalogue just the same as a book often sells by its cover. Don’t fire your graphic artists and maketing talent just yet.

  8. CandY Paull

    I used to write catalog copy and I loved having a beautiful paper hold-in-my-hands version from the publishers. Almost as good as being published (but not quite!). And back when I was a bookstore buyer in the 80s I loved the feel of glossy pages and knowing the wonderful things I was buying for my customers.

  9. tomsmom

    I worked as a print catalog production manager, but my position was eliminated several years ago due to the expense of producing and printing paper. Now that company has an online catalog, driven by a database and is very generic looking. I loved looking at competitors’ catalogs to compare and get ideas.

    This is a sad state of times for print catalogs (and books).

  10. Jody L

    I love catalogs too. I go to Catalogs.com every couple of months to see what new ones there are and order the ones I want sent to me. Been using them for years when they only had 50 companies and now they must have over 500. Great Service.

  11. Marcia Kaplan

    I so miss my paper catalogs. I am terrible on the computer and find that my eyes are getting old and need the comfort of a reading a catalog. So happy I am not alone in this. Sometimes I don’t see a title on line, but do in a catalog.

  12. Kitti

    I hear you! and pinning together pages so you only see the ones you want no fuss nor muss. The paperless office never did come about; I imagine some catalogs will remain on paper as well, if not in the same numbers.

  13. Sally Brewster

    I couldn’t agree with you more—buying books with out the catalog is painful! Everything looks the same and it’s BORING!

  14. sue corbett

    Gack — me, too! Catalogs were something I stashed in my bag to read while I was waiting for the boys’ turn at bat, the recital to begin, the doctor to show up, etc. And I just hate the idea of spending more time looking at this screen! In fact, I’m walking away now — off to the couch with a book made of paper!

  15. Jennifer

    I miss the paper catalogs too! I used to take them with me and my neighboring children’s librarian and I would hang out at our local Chinese restaurant and spend hours discussing the books and deciding on orders. Alas, no more…I suppose I could invest in an ipad or something and then we could look at them online, but ipads are less forgiving about getting sweet and sour sauce spilled on them…

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