Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs

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I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the future of marketing books. The possibilities of what we can or might do fascinate me because that’s where the fun in marketing books really lies.

Which brings me to seasonal catalogs: the traditional linchpin of book marketing. Confining our book releases to two artificial seasons (for some reason we couldn’t even keep in line with nature and do four) seems archaic to many people. The artifice of the seasons and their accompanying catalogs have long been derided as old-fashioned and unnecessary in the modern Edelweiss, endless media, perpetual publishing and buying model. Even though almost all university presses continue with the seasonal model, some have done away with the printed version of the seasonal catalog entirely.

But we’re not thinking about the seasonal catalog in the right way. We’re only looking at its constraints, its costs, its effect on the house and wider publishing industry. What about the possibilities and potential of the seasonal catalog?


We need content so we create it and we do it on a seasonal basis. Our content is ready for primetime and then we stick it in a catalog and on a website. We barely use it again.


Content development is the heart and soul of the catalog. We go to a lot of trouble to write copy of the highest quality, to get covers designed, prices set, and blurbs in the bag. We do all this because in our particular version of marketing we truly are content marketers. We need content so we create it and we do it on a seasonal basis. Our content is ready for primetime and then we stick it in a catalog and on a website (and in our metadata, which is at least flexible and full of potential itself). We barely use it again. Sure, there are book flyers and maybe a direct mail piece or two, but that’s about it. The seasonal catalog just created somewhere around 20,000–30,000 words of content, at least 350 separate data chunks, and at least one widget for every book in the finished piece. What I mean by all this is that with every seasonal catalog we have interchangeable and reuseable content of the highest order. So let’s use it.

Create multiple catalogs. I just heard a lot of people hit the ground in dread at the idea of creating multiple seasonal catalogs, but why not? Template the design, pull the pages you want, put them in a new catalog and you have a subject catalog or a direct-to-consumer catalog or whatever kind you want. Keep your rep and pricing information in separate data packets and you can switch out your US info for UK/Europe info or Australian info (or whatever country you want) and you’ve just made them a catalog they can actually use when they’re repping your books for you. XML tag your database and you can export whatever book you want into the multipurpose template you created. Want to do a backlist special on regional books for your regional indies? Mine your backlist and done. Export and away you go.


We can print one catalog for one person based on what we know they want/like to read/buy. I can pull your purchasing history or your browsing history and make you a personalized catalog. I can do this in print and digitally and I can do it for minimal cost.


So what’s so fun and radical about any of this? You can do some of this through Edelweiss (well, with a struggle, and outside of your own system and data-mining potential, and produce something not everyone uses or wants) and there are other platforms that offer similar solutions. You can set your website up to do exactly this, of course, too. But consider—even those of you doing digital-only catalogs now—how you could use this to your benefit in the printed version. No one needs to offset print their catalogs anymore. We can print one catalog for one person based on what we know they want/like to read/buy. I can pull your purchasing history or your browsing history and make you a personalized catalog. I can give you a quality print product targeted with an Amazon “you might also enjoy this” approach. I can do this in print and digitally and I can do it for minimal cost.

Hyper-targeted catalogs are a B2C dream. Right now, I receive at least ten catalogs on a monthly basis. Some of these catalogs have adopted a content-marketing strategy with a narrative based on their brand. I’m drawn into their story because it resonates with me. But even those few catalogs that have at least identified a way to connect with me are still not aimed directly at me. In many ways the brands that send me these catalogs cannot adopt such an individualized print marketing strategy because they are too big. University presses can. We’re not so big that we need to produce packaged content in a mass-market sense. We’re small enough that we can take our narrative-driven content and tailor it to the people we’re sending it to. History catalog? Not any more. Create a tourism history catalog or an 18th-century military history catalog or a baseball catalog or German literary criticism catalog. Take that one step further: an early-20th-century tourism history catalog; an 18th-century British military history catalog; a baseball catalog for Yankees fans; a German literary criticism catalog for contemporary literature. You can keep drilling these catalogs down, aiming them at the actual audience for those specific books and you can do it on a one-to-one basis.

The modularity of the widget-based, template catalog pulled from your seasonal catalogs of today and yesterday gives you the tools to target your customers in a personal and useful way. Sure, it takes a little more effort, and you won’t do it for every book or every subject, but where the ROI looks best, the time taken to craft a special catalog will pay off and pay off significantly. This modularity extends beyond the catalog, of course, but if you’re going to the trouble of creating a seasonal catalog, get the most out of it. Reuse and repurpose the content over and over again in ever more defined segments and you will get your money’s worth. Think of the people/dollar resources spent on that catalog. Take that expense and effort and spend it again without cost. The upfront repurposing of your existing templates will be well worth the cost because every time you take that widget, that module, and reuse it in a new and exciting and targeted way, you’ve just cut the cost of the original.

—Martyn

Martyn Beeny is the Marketing Director at Cornell University Press. He’s not entirely sure if he likes Iron Fist on Netflix, but is still hooked. Follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs