Meade's new book looks stellar

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After a three-year hiatus from publishing its annual catalog of telescopes, Meade Instruments Corp. has returned with a big bang.

Unlike the technical format of previous catalogs, the 2007 Product Catalog is designed to have a mass appeal, with numerous photographs of the night sky submitted by amateurs, anecdotes from average consumers and skilled astrophotographers as well as images of couples, Cub Scouts and families using various telescopes.

"We heard consistent feedback from the [uninitiated or novice user] that they do not understand the old catalog," said Rich Jorgensen, senior vice president of marketing for Meade Instruments, Irvine, CA. "Most importantly, they did not understand which telescope is for them."

For example, customers used to get the catalog and immediately call customer service for assistance in choosing a telescope.

The new catalog aims to help people select the right telescope for themselves. The book features the tagline, "Find your telescope. Find yourself," on the cover and throughout the catalog. To help readers, Meade (www.meade.com) defines eight types of night sky watchers and indicates which telescopes are best suited for each.

The catalog also looks to connect with the passion that stargazers feel, something decidedly missing from previous editions, Mr. Jorgensen said. Previous books were more technical, with no people featured unless they wore a lab coat.

"We wanted to get away from that sterile image by highlighting actual users throughout," Mr. Jorgensen said, adding that the results are very experiential. This draws the reader in, conveying the excitement that people feel for learning about the night sky and the emotion that has surrounded this type of exploration through the millennia, he said.

Photography is just one way the catalog attempts to get consumers excited about astronomy. Meade asked for submissions from consumers using Meade telescopes and cameras over a period of 18 months and received many, Mr. Jorgensen said.

What's unchanged from previous catalogs is that the book is printed on high-quality stock and represents a significant portion of the company's marketing budget.

The 2007 catalog was designed in-house and, at 146 pages, is the largest Meade has ever produced. During those three years the company produced no catalogs, it introduced a number of products, all of which are showcased here.

"We wanted to start completely from scratch," Mr. Jorgensen said.

Previously, Meade's catalogs were distributed in print format only. The 2007 book was posted online Sept. 15, where the PDF file can be downloaded.

The company had projected 15,000 to 20,000 downloads of the catalog monthly. That forecast already has been exceeded by 15 times, Mr. Jorgensen said. In addition, the Web site's "unique visitors have gone through the roof since we have put it up," he said, with unique visits more than doubling.

Mail-order requests for the catalog, which cost the consumer $5, total about 750 a week and come in mostly through the Internet, he said.

The catalog also features several pages about Meade's 4M Community, an outreach group dedicated to the growth of astronomy.

"There is a bit of a learning curve with the hobby and a real need for mentoring," Mr. Jorgensen said.

This is one goal of 4M, which can be found at www.meade4m.com. Members can own any brand of telescope, and partner organizations include NASA, local astronomy clubs and Popular Science.

"We have been out for a year and now have more members than any astronomical society in the world," Mr. Jorgensen said.

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