Friday, February 10, 2012

The Paper Age

All doomster predictions aside, I don't believe that the paper book is going away anytime soon, if at all. I can tell you what is going away, though, and soon: the paper catalog.

Especially in the book industry, publishers are falling all over themselves trying to put an end to the paper catalog -- and I suppose there are lots of benefits, to their budgets, to the environment, to my desk. But I hate it.

The industry standard is currently Eidelweiss, a bit of web-based software owned by a company called Above the Treeline that allows publishers to easily share their catalogs online. And it stinks. The sales reps "mark up" (add comments to) the catalog and send us an email link. When we click on the link, what we get is a plain, uniform list a hundred books long, with a tiny thumbnail of each book cover, the ISBN, price, and the sales rep comments, if any. In order to get the details for any one of those books, you have to click through on another link.

Here's the deal: I can not be bothered to click on a hundred links to a hundred separate pages to look at the details of a hundred books. When you do click through, every single page is uniform, identically designed, no individuality for any title. This is not an enticing way to sell books to a book lover. It's like browsing books at Amazon, I defy any book lover to actually do it.

With a paper catalog, you turn the page and all the information you need is right there. Usually there's an image of the book cover that's actually large enough to see, a description, some review quotes, the print run, it's all RIGHT THERE. No clicking to do. Also, if the catalog designer is worth anything, he or she can customize the design of each individual page to suit the book that's on display.

When Penguin's adult hardcover line published paper catalogs, I used to order between sixty to ninety titles from them every season. This spring they went exclusively to Eidelweiss, and you know what? I ordered just twelve titles. In a way, it was kind of a relief. A lot less work for me.

I can't believe that I'm alone in this. At a time when the book industry is whining about how their sales are shrinking, they seem to be doing everything in their power to make their sales worse. People in the retail business do not have the time to be farting around on the internet clicking links for hours. Plus, in order for me to do the purchase order up, I have to print out the damn Eidelweiss listing anyway, and that costs us money. Until they can devise an online catalog that actually looks and works and is as easy to use as paper ones, I predict their sales to retail stores will plummet.

Macmillan is going Eidelweiss this spring, Random House is going Eidelweiss this summer, and the death of the paper catalog is in sight. It's just one more way that the world is changing, not for the better.

-- Freder.

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