Editorial: A Catalog Is a Catalog Is a Catalog

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Not sure when "catalog" became a bad word, but two companies avoided it while talking about their new marketing efforts.

Buy.com is mailing its self-named "Buy.com Magazine," a 40-page book with more than 250 electronic products for sale. It also features six - yes, six - very short stories relating to the items, as in "Visualize More Workspace With an LCD Monitor" on the page selling computer monitors. The copy reads: "There are several advantages to choosing a CRT model over a flat panel. It all comes down to space, price and usability." Buy.com's Web site and a toll-free number are mentioned throughout the book. That's a magazine?

IKEA, meanwhile, is finishing its summer "brochure," a look into 8 1/2-year-old Katie's journal. The 48-page book is filled with hundreds of products for sale as well as a few notes from Katie on how she spent her summer vacation: "At the end of the summer we have a great summer party on my street. Everyone is invited. We have all kinds of seafood at our clambake. It's so much fun." Almost all of the items are ideal for summertime use - patio furniture, flower pots and the like - and it also sends readers to its Web site and includes a toll-free number. That's a brochure?

Why aren't these companies calling these things what they are? Catalogs. Both fit the definition in Barron's "Dictionary of Marketing Terms," which says a catalog is a "list of items available for purchase with the description and price of each item. ... Toll-free numbers are frequently given for ease of phone-in orders." Though magalog may be a better term for Buy.com's book, as mentioned by the agency that put it together, even that's a stretch, as the stories are there only to serve as a selling tool for the products. Even Abercrombie & Fitch's always-controversial magalog offers more than that.

Admittedly, this has been a painful year for catalogers. Mark, Fore & Strike announced plans last week to shut down its catalog operations. Foster & Gallagher went under last summer. Fingerhut is hanging by a thread. The medium, however, is far from broken and is nothing for marketers to shy away from, even if that was not their intent.

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