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Some Shameless Self-Promotion This Go-Round

I’m kind of embarrassed to do this, but because of my new position, it’s probably best I spread the word anyway I can. Below is a press release of my hire, which was made official this week:

American Catalog Mailers Association Adds Industry Vet Paul Miller
Washington, DC, Jan. 14, 2010—Hamilton Davison, president & executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, today announced the hiring of Paul Miller as vice president & deputy director of the trade organization that serves the needs of catalog mailers.

Miller’s role with the nearly-three-year-old group will run the gamut from relations and close contact with U.S. Postal Service, Postal Regulatory Commission and other key government officials, to membership development, to organizing and overseeing ACMA’s National Catalog Advocacy Forum, April 13-15, 2010, in Nashville.

“We’re excited to have someone with the kind of extensive background in the catalog business that Paul has,” Davison said. “We’ll look to Paul to help expand ACMA’s role in support of catalog retailers and to accelerate the build–up of this vital organization’s membership base.”

Miller most recently served as editor-in-chief of Catalog Success magazine (now called All About ROI). Prior to that, Miller served for 18 years as senior news editor with Catalog Age magazine (now Multichannel Merchant).

Joining ACMA “is a natural evolution in my career,” Miller said. “I’ve gotten so close to so many people in this field over the years; now’s my chance to make a more direct and immediate impact on their businesses. In less than three years, Hamilton and ACMA have already had a very positive influence on catalog mailers’ postal rates and other matters that help boost their bottom lines. I intend to help take ACMA to the next level. Getting there won’t merely be my goal; it’ll be my passion.”

Miller will work full-time out of his home office in Westchester County, N.Y., and can be reached anytime at 914-669-8391 or

# # #

About the American Catalog Mailers Association:
ACMA is a Washington-based not-for-profit organization specifically created to advocate for the unique collective interests of catalog mailers in regulatory, public and administrative matters where the shared impact transcends individual company interests. ACMA participates in rulemaking and other proceedings of significance where a single collective voice increases influence and effectiveness. Membership is open to any party with significant interests in the catalog industry. More information can be found at

Hamilton Davison, 800-509-9514,
Paul Miller, 914-669-8391,


Is The Death of Print Being Over-Stated?

Every day, you see proof that print’s dying. Almost all publications — from newspapers to magazines to catalogs and brochures — are getting smaller, both in page counts and trim sizes.

But every now and then you come across some encouraging signs that there just may continue to be a viable role for print down the road. This morning I read a small article in The New York Times about how e-commerce shoe retailer Zappo’s is succeeding in mailing print catalogs. The article made me recall the kinds of articles I used to write during the print catalog’s heyday when I was an editor with the former Catalog Age magazine (now Multichannel Merchant).

The Zappo’s article showed that Zappo’s can bring in much bigger orders from customers who respond to its print catalogs than it does from online customers. That’s always been the case since the Web came along, and it’s showing no signs of changing. Makes me wonder if the costs of print, postal and paper can level off in the next few years whether that business may be rejuvenated.

As for newspapers and magazines, that remains anybody’s guess right now.

Black Friday? Cyber Monday? It’s Binge Discounting All This Week

Blogger’s Note: Following today’s entry, I’ll take a hiatus until next week. So today, I offer you a broader assessment of how the discount retail shopping game is shaping up this week.

Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.

As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (, the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.

These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.

Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.

Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.

What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.

It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.

If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.

Paper Looks Different to Me

I spent my Sunday afternoon going through a ton of old magazines, conference brochures and other 8-1/2″ x 11″ printed materials I’d been filing on some bookshelves of my home office. It was the first time I’d purged myself of stuff like this in four years and I only hope the recycle collector has enough room on his truck for it all.

Funny thing about this process though. I found myself looking at all this paper differently than ever before. Even though I’m constantly tossing newspapers into the recycle bin, the enormous stacks of magazines I got rid of really made me feel like I was unloading what’s becoming a bygone era. I almost felt like I was throwing out old phonographs or 8-track tape players.

As I prepare to leave my job of the past 3-3/4 years once it’s terminated next week, I’ve come to the realization that as chief editor for a national business publication in charge of every letter and image that’s printed and posted on our Website and e-newsletters, about 95% of the files I kept throughout my tenure were on my computer. I threw out almost all my file folders because most of them I had inherited from my predecessor. And they’re pretty useless now.

Having grown up with so much print all around me, I feel like we’re really smack dab in the middle of a major transformation from print to digital. Because my wife Donna does a lot of catalog and online shopping, we still get plenty of catalogs. And catalogs are far from dead yet. So are magazines. Like I said, we’re right in the middle of this shift.

It’s hard to say how soon we’ll move toward the end of this transformation, but I just found it a bit eerie today, because it really began to sink in that the shift is taking place for real now. The reality is, I believe the message that people like Al Gore have been preaching for years is starting to sink in on people in a subtle sort of way. Perhaps it was accelerated a bit by the recession or the rising cost of mailing printed publications like magazines and catalogs.

Hard to say, but it’s happening.

As Magazines Go, So Too Do Catalogs

For some people in catalog circles, the news earlier this week of J.C. Penney’s decision to discontinue its “big book” catalogs, could have a lasting impact on them for years to come — “I know where I was when I heard Penney was closing down its big book.”

Most consumers, namely Penney customers, probably won’t notice it all that much. After all, they prefer Penney’s smaller specialty catalogs and are more inclined to shop online anyway.

Of course some will miss the big books, especially since Penney’s was the last of what’s now basically a dead breed. There are still plenty of B-to-B catalog big books, but those only go to people in their trades. And let’s face it: Little kids don’t go paging through B-to-B books looking for birthday or holiday wishes.

Speaking of B-to-B, the death of the catalog big book isn’t all that unlike the ongoing death of the B-to-B magazine. Many B-to-B publishers are trying to get their subscribers to opt for digital editions — files of pdfs of the same pages you can see published in print. In many cases, readers are fine with this, but are they really reading the digital editions?

And will customers give consideration to as many of the hundreds of products that used to be advertised in the Penney big book once they’re all only made available online or in stores? I have to believe plenty of products from the nearly 1,000 pages of the Penney big book won’t be found online. They’ll be there, but it’s doubtful that as many customers who used to find them in the big book will still find them in the 2010 digital big books.

Are catalog companies like Penney going to lose a lot of sales by hedging their bets on the Internet? What about B-to-B publisihers? How many readers will those handy online substitutions lose? I believe quite a few.

People Always Love Their Brands’ Stories

I was riding on the railroad from my Westchester County, N.Y., home to New York City this morning with a fellow who recognized me. Nice guy. I sort of recognized him, but didn’t know (or remember?) his name. But he knew mine, because he used to watch my son play on the high school basketball team. We talked almost the entire hour-long ride about a myriad of subjects. Inevitably, the issue of my forthcoming unemployment came up.

Explaining to people what I’ve done for most of my professional life — editing, writing and reporting for a B-to-B publication/newsletter/Website serving the retail/catalog/e-commerce business — has never been easy. I get a lot of quizzical looks. Sure, they perk up a bit when I say “y’know, companies like Lands’ End, L.L.Bean, those…,” but more often than not, they just don’t get it.

That’s fine. I’d venture to guess that about 30%-50% of the world’s professions can’t be easily explained to the average Joe. But the cool thing about my profession — if there is a cool thing about it, and while it lasts — is people have heard of the kinds of companies I’ve covered over the years.

So this gentleman and I got into a whole involved conversation about our families and he talked about his family’s devout love for skiing and lodging up north. Then he got into some of the brands he’s either bought from over the years or received catalogs from, like REI, Patagonia, Eastern Mountain Sports, and others. He really led the conversation, raving about REI, its service and its cooperative set-up to which he gains annual dividends. I was quick to inject that I wrote up a big cover story on REI just last May (see We had a nice connect.

But he wasn’t done. And keep in mind that this kind gentleman is in the financial world, but has no sort of business connections to the retail world. He continued to lead this conversation. Somehow we talked our way into Abercrombie & Fitch, sharing recollections of the Sharper Image-Meets-Brookstone A&F used to be back in the ’80s before it became a racy teen clothing phenom.

That led him to discuss Eddie Bauer and its latest comeback. He boasted that recently he had these two bags (I think they were backpacks?) he had bought from Bauer some 20 years ago — and what? three or four ownership changes ago? — and the inner lining of both had fallen apart. He decided to try to send them back and see what Bauer would do. Much to his surprise and joy, Bauer gave him a credit for comparable new ones.

It seems as though anybody can tell a good story about a merchant they’ve done business with at some point in their lives. People clammer to favorite retail brands and often get caught up in those brands’ evolution.

Everybody loves a story, and in retail or mail order or even e-commerce, they’re looking to be part of newer stories. As retailers and businesses of all types continue to tighten their belts, they shouldn’t lose track of the stories they tell – past, present and future.

What Kinds of Ads Will Work in the Future?

For those of you non-sports fans reading this, I apologize in advance for another sports reference, but I’ll keep it very short. I recall the days no more than 15 years ago when baseball stadiums only had a few ads beside the scoreboards, and the boards around professional hockey rinks were all white. Nowadays, of course, that’s all changed and there are big billboard ads everywhere.

Newer kinds of intrusive big ads, like the in-your-face in sports billboards, and the subliminal ones you see in the bottom corner of your TV set, and the video ads that began springing up on subway street signs and in malls, keep emerging every day. Like the more traditional space advertising, TV commercials or highway billboards, consumer response from any of these forms of advertising can not be accounted for.

And with business so awful all over, many advertisers are retreating as their budgets are being stripped. “Go Web Young Man!” could eventually prove as productive as “Go West!” once did. But for now, although Web advertising is often accountable, it remains quite limited in scope.

What’s needed is for all the emerging social technologies, some as simple as this blog, to reach a point where they can satisfy the needs of advertisers’ promotional accountability. But for now, as we hopefully soon emerge from The Great Recession, what forms of advertising will work best? Nobody (I’m exaggerating, of course) views TV commercials now in the age of the DVR. Newspapers are going out of business every day. Fewer people read magazines. Catalogs remain a viable medium for getting in consumers’ faces, but a growing number of catalog companies can’t afford the high cost of postage anymore (eg: the near-daily dose of Victoria’s Secret catalogs are long gone, guys).

I’m not an ad agency guy. But I’d love to be a fly on the wall at some agency pow-wows these days. The brainstorming going on must be quite intense.