National Geographic Explores More Outside Lists to Boost Response

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After cutting circulation for its fall 2002 gift catalog by 1 million names and using a higher proportion of outside lists, National Geographic says its book will be profitable and has succeeded in attracting new customers.

"The goal in terms of reducing circulation was to focus on improving profitability," said Ed Coleman, vice president, general manager of catalog at The National Geographic Society, Washington. "We're certainly on track to improve profitability over last year."

Fall circulation was 1.85 million, including 916,000 copies that hit the mail July 9-11, 620,000 that went Aug. 5-7 and a drop of 313,000 that mailed Sept. 12. Circulation last fall was 2.9 million.

"Last year, we mailed more deeply into the house file," Coleman said. "Last year, 87 percent of the fall mailing was house file. This included the National Geographic buyer file and internal prospects, which would include those who only take the magazine, or they have the magazine and have purchased something else from National Geographic, and someone who hasn't bought from the catalog in the past."

This fall, 61 percent of books went to the house file.

"The biggest change was using less of the internal database for prospecting and the move toward more outside lists and bringing new people in," he said. "This year, we used a half-dozen lists for the fall. The dominant part of that other 39 percent is from the outside databases."

Coleman expects the response rate will exceed last year's 1.3 percent, despite a higher percentage of names from outside lists.

"We're projecting a 1.8 percent response rate, and now we are just over 1 percent," he said. "And just over 60 percent of the catalog's business is in."

The book's average price point is just over $125, compared with $134 last fall. The average order has been $89, down from $92.

"We made a concentrated effort to provide greater variety at the lower price points," Coleman said.

National Geographic's catalog target audience is 45 and older with an average household income of $50,000 to $75,000. Page count remains at last fall's 56, though this year's fall catalog had 214 items compared with 200 last year.

"We generally change 40 [percent] to 50 percent of the items in our catalog from year to year," Coleman said. "In the gift business we must be ahead of the curve in providing fresh, new and interesting product."

Top-selling items include the National Geographic GeoBee challenge game ($19.95), the National Geographic mountaineering edition of Monopoly ($34.95), the nostalgic sound system ($249.95) and the Thai elephant table ($149.95).

National Geographic catalogs use three major mailings: spring, fall and holiday. There also is a summer clearance issue. Overall circulation for 2002 will be 11 million, down from more than 12 million in 2001.

Seventy-five percent of the fall orders are coming via telephone, and less than 20 percent are from the Web site,

"The Web accounted for just under 14 percent of sales last fall," he said.


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