August 19, 2021

Oh Boy

I've written this post a good 20 times and have deleted it 19 times.

About 35% (+/-) of my readers are in the catalog industry. If you would have told them in 1998 that there would be a day when printers would cancel your mailings and paper folks would shut down "following years of market decline" and paper reps would go quiet at the very time when they're needed most ... well, you'd say "what the heck happened"?

What the heck happened?

Catalog marketing peaked in 1998. You might remember 1998 because twenty-five million people would turn on Seinfeld and giggle at the antics of J. Peterman and his catalog. The day Seinfeld ended coincided with the realistic birth of e-commerce. From that point forward, consolidation, mismanagement of the industry, and scarcity were nearly certain. I'm stunned it took 23 years to get here. People thought I was nuts when I said in 2007 that people wouldn't measure results in the future via source codes. I was there, I absorbed the scorn.

The paper folks mocked us, telling us that the Amazon Catalog marked the resurgence of print. We've been mocked for years, as every little failed experiment is lauded as proof of the resurgence of print.

Why would so much consolidation in the print world have happened in the past decade if print was making a resurgence, as the list vendors screamed at us was happening?

Why would catalog circulation have decreased by about 50% over the past fifteen years if print was making a resurgence, as the paper folks screamed at us was happening?

For every million pages Amazon circulated, a billion pages were pulled out of the ecosystem, leaving us with few printing options and few paper options and resulting in a complete failure of the industry this Fall.

Do you understand? Some of you are being told you can't mail a catalog because paper doesn't exist or capacity doesn't exist for your job. Imagine what Boeing would do if they were told they couldn't get engines built? 

What will you do?

I used to receive breathless weekly communications from paper reps, lauding value of print. Those stopped three months ago, as the vendor community that supports the industry realized it was about to lose trust.

Oh, trust has been lost. 

My goodness.

Your co-ops failed you - delivering 72 year old customers with ever-decreasing response rates while selling ... selling ... your data to social organizations and brands looking to "engage" with social commerce users. What used to be a 1.5% response rate is now a 0.5% response rate, and they caused the problem, not you.

Now your printers and paper folks have failed you. And I get it, lots of printer employees are fighting hard for you right now, trying desperately hard to give you solutions. Those people will be viewed kindly, they are wonderful Professionals. The organizations they work for, however, mis-managed things. Ask the Leadership at these vendors why they don't have capacity for your measly little project? It's THEIR JOB to make sure there is capacity for your tiny little job. 

They failed you, or they'd have capacity for you.

I'm going to get industry hate mail after this is published. "You're a moron, you don't get it." And yet, I've been in this industry for more than three decades, and I've never seen something as silly as this. Maybe the negative comments should be directed elsewhere.

Oh boy.

It's time for you to chart a course in 2022. Your focus is on commerce ... not e-commerce, not catalogs, not retail ... commerce. It's time you figured out how to sell stuff on your own. You are talented enough to figure this out. Use 2022 to chart your own course.

It's time.

P.S.: By now you've either decided that there's something to what I'm arguing, or you are ready to fry an egg on my forehead. If you are in the "latter camp", ask yourself what would happen to Shopify if they shut down their application from November 15-22, or shut it down until you paid more to keep your site up (like paying for more expensive paper)? What would you think of that? Your answer to that question applies to the paper reps and printers who are making your life challenging right now.

P.P.S.:  If you disagree with me, let me know, I'll print your response as long as it is worded properly and makes a cogent argument. I will print it without judgment. You get your forum, you get your chance to say something. You deserve to be heard.

P.P.P.S.:  If you agree with me, let me know. I'll only print your response if you want it printed. But please let me know.

P.P.P.P.S.:  I worked at Lands' End from 1990 to 1995. If Gary Comer was told that he couldn't mail his November catalog to the level he wanted to because there wasn't enough paper available and/or not enough printing capacity available ... well ... let's just say that he would have been "cancelled" in modern parlance.

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