Cataloging The Catalogues - The Paper Salespersons

on April 22, 2015

Anyone over the age of 50 remembers paper - that stuff they made out of scrunched-up trees that came in big flat sheets. Sometimes you even see it in the digital era - they spray ink over it to make pictures that look a lot like the computer screen...

Well in the 1950's they even used it for making up illustrated lists of products for sale. These were called catalogues and were frequently given out to prospective clients to aid them in selecting products - or so it was said. In reality the catalogues were sent out as silent agents - paper assassins programmed to attack the nerve centres of the victims and render them helpless. They did this by several means:

1. They were illustrated well. In a era that had rather poor reproduction standards in the newspapers ( I'll explain what newspapers were in a future post.) the catalogue provided first-class images. Their black and white pictures were frequently taken with 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 cameras and were professionally lit and posed. The block making and printing was superb. Colour was even more spectacular, though it might not pass muster today as far as actual fidelity - it depended upon strong contrasts and startling inks. Just the fact of colour in a printed image was a seller.

Note: Australia missed out in this to some extent as overseas catalogues were sometimes rendered in monochrome when they came here. The same applied to comic books - a travesty of the artist's work. Gordon and Gotch have a lot to answer for.

The pictures were taken by professional photographers - frequently in proper studios. You got to see expert illustrations. You got to see exploded diagram photos.

2. They were accessible. Catalogues were a respectable form of publication - sanctioned by retailers and wholesalers alike - and you could safely give them to children. The underwear section of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue bordered on the risqué only if you exercised an unhealthy imagination. Page 82 was really good...

3. They were always there and always on. Paper catalogues never needed to have their batteries charged and no-one needed to remember a password to read them. You could take them into the can and study the goods without fear of dropping $ 1000 worth of electronics down the pan.

4. They were focussed. If the manufacturer wanted you see their range of products, you saw just that - no side-ads scrolling down as you read - no temptation to poke off into another page. They showed - you looked.

Today there are a number of manufacturers in our trade who follow the paper catalogue route as well as using the internet websites. They either put out a comprehensive publication like the Gitzo tripod people or a series of separate pamphlets like the Nikon people. Both approaches score attention from buyers and a credible response.

Their message drives deeper than the pure-computer approach - and I think they score more sales from it. Let us hope that other manufacturers adopt this idea - catalogues are a good idea.