Big books make a comeback

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After focusing on niche titles and targeted mailings for years, it's been a long time since a catalog made a thud when dropped on a table. That changed last week when Sears brought back its large-format holiday Wish Book after a 14-year hiatus. At 188 pages, it's smaller than the big books were in their heyday, but Sears is the latest multichannel merchant joining the trend towards increasing the pages again.

"All the big retail stores are putting out holiday books which are increasing in page counts and frequency," said Lois Boyle, president and chief creative officer of catalog services company J. Schmid & Assoc., Shawnee Mission, KS.

Some smaller catalog companies are reducing the size and/or frequency of their catalogs in response to the this year's postage increase, which was up to 40% for some merchants. At last month's New England Mail Order Association's fall conference, several attendees said that larger merchants are mailing bigger and more frequently.

Phil Donahue, VP of strategic accounts and development at Catalogs by Lorel, King of Prussia, PA, says direct marketing is proving to be less risky than other forms of communication with the consumer. As a result, "contrary to expectations earlier this year, we are seeing a lift in direct marketing activity for [the holiday season]," Donahue said.

The Neiman Marcus holiday catalog, known for its selection of extravagant gifts, is also getting bigger. This year, it weighs in at 160 pages - eight pages more than last year.

"Neiman Marcus struggled with a smaller catalog," Boyle said about the retailer's attempt to do specialty books. "At the end of the day, doing 12 specialty books can be more expensive than one big book," he added, especially when you take into account 12 print runs and rising paper and postage costs.

Multichannel merchants have had to make some adjustments in their strategies for bigger catalogs as a result of rising costs and the growing concern about paper consumption.

The latest Sears Wish Book will be "distributed to fewer customers," according to a statement from the company, and will be available online to encourage less use of paper.

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