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Primedia Merges Catalog Age, Operations & Fulfillment

Shrinking ad revenues and pressure from Primedia brass to come up with new revenue streams were cited by observers as reasons for the company’s decision last week to retire the brands of 23-year old Catalog Age and sister publication Operations & Fulfilment and merge them into a new title called Multichannel Merchant.

“Catalog Age’s profits continued to get smaller over the last five years,” said a source familiar with the company. “The ad revenues had been dwindling, probably by double digits in terms of percentages.”

According to Inquiry Management Systems, which tallies ad pages in business-to-business markets, Catalog Age’s ad pages declined from 1,729 in 1999 to 751 in 2004. A competitive title introduced in 1999 by North American Publishing, Catalog Success, may have contributed to Catalog Age’s decline. According to IMS, Catalog Success ran 397 pages of ads last year.

According to the DM News source, Operations & Fulfillment, which dealt primarily with the operations niche in the catalog business, “had been struggling for years, and it was known in the company that that magazine was always on the bubble.”

In a statement describing the decision, Primedia said the move reflects the reality that most catalogers sell products via the Internet. Also, back-end operations and product fulfillment have become more important than ever to today’s multichannel merchants.

“I am a bit sad to see Catalog Age, as we know it, changing,” said Eric Faintreny, chairman/CEO of Redcats USA, New York. “I hope they will maintain some of their good content.”

This is just the most recent of several business moves by Primedia, which has a large portfolio of consumer and BTB publications. Last summer, it formed a joint venture with Red 7 Media, Norwalk, CT, in which Red 7 assumed a majority stake in two of its publications, Folio and Circulation Management.

In February, Primedia sold About.com to The New York Times Co. for $410 million. Primedia had acquired the Internet content provider in a 2000 stock swap valued at $690 million.

Many people in the industry expressed dismay to see Catalog Age’s name disappear.

“I’m a bit surprised because I would think that the Catalog Age brand has a great deal of equity,” said Bill Eyre, director of advertising at The Orvis Co., Manchester, VT. “But this change is consistent with the state of the direct marketing business, as most major direct merchants have gone beyond catalogs to become true multichannel marketers.”

Others are happy to have one less industry publication to read.

“This industry has a plethora of media choices,” said David Hochberg, vice president of public affairs at Lillian Vernon Corp., White Plains, NY.

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