April 14, 2013

Dear Catalog CEOs: Newspaper Paywalls

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Sometimes you need to focus on a different industry, in order to gain insight into your own industry.

Give this article about newspaper paywalls a quick read (click here).  Pay attention to a couple of interesting metrics.
  • More than two-thirds of regular newspaper readers are over the age of 45.
  • The average age of a newspaper reader is 57 years old.
  • The average age of the online newspaper audience grows one year older as each year passes.
  • "Unless those demographics turn around, it's only a matter of time before the audience dwindles to a size that is no longer economically sustainable."
As a catalog business leader, would you come to a different conclusion, when reviewing a different industry (newspapers)?  Probably not.

Fast forward to the catalog industry, where the trends, on average, are terribly similar (though nobody seems to want to talk about it, for obvious reasons).

This fact gives us two, equally valid options:
  1. Ride this trend out to a logical conclusion, extracting profit until our customer audience is no longer economically viable.
  2. Use the profit generated by the existing, 55+ customer audience to slowly build a new customer file based on a younger demographic, testing new ideas along the way.
We need to have an honest discussion about (1) and (2).  We're currently treading water.  We need to pick which side we belong to.

Sit down with your co-op rep this week, and have this discussion, as the co-ops are the primary customer acquisition vehicle pushing our industry into a demographic corner.  Better yet, sit down with your Executive team, and discuss this issue with them.