Editorial: Some Good News

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NEW YORK -- The Web drove $30 billion in direct marketing sales last year, and it's projected to grow 35 percent a year, reaching $130 billion in 2006. Those were some of the good-news statistics mentioned at last week's net.marketing conference. "At this pace, we expect direct marketers' online sales to surpass traditional catalogs within the decade," DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen said. Those numbers are backed up in the real world, too. Twenty-five percent of the Wine Enthusiast's sales come from its Web site, while it expects online sales to reach 50 percent in the next two years.

Not that catalogs will be going away any time soon, as companies use a combination of online and offline techniques to drive traffic to the Web. Still most popular -- at 58 percent -- is direct mail, Wientzen said.

This year's much-diminished-though-worthwhile net.marketing show had one-third the exhibitors as a year ago, but it remained busy. Organizers used the smaller venue, the New York Hilton & Towers, to their advantage. Sessions were overflowing. Floor traffic was brisk the first day, though it dropped off the second. It will be some time before we return to the attendance numbers of two, three years ago -- f ever -- so perhaps it's time to redefine how we look at industry conferences. It may be a cliché, but the line, "It's the quality, not the quantity," certainly rang true for many exhibitors who found that those walking through wanted to get down to business.

Fingerhut: R.I.P. for Now

Sad to write those words, but as predicted in this space a week ago Fingerhut's writing was on the wall. It's doubtful that Federated Department Stores had any intention of selling the catalog as a whole enterprise. Federated paid $1.7 billion for Fingerhut three years ago, then watched it lose $1 billion because of bad management, the slowing economy and credit write-downs. That's a lot of money down the drain. Somehow Fingerhut's pieces are worth more separately, as Federated expects to bring in $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion by selling its call centers, warehouses and the still-functioning catalogs Figi's, Arizona Mail Order and Popular Club.

Despite all this, somehow I don't believe the Fingerhut name will be gone forever.


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