In a file drawer to the left of my desk I keep assorted papers, documents, archaic newspaper articles, assorted limbs, etc. etc. And at the front, handy and accessible and always easiest to grab, is my collection of catalogs of the upcoming season. As each publisher prints out and sends off the roster of their offerings, I am able to use my little collection to compare and contrast. At a glance you can see which publishers can afford (or care) to do glossy full-color bits of gorgeousness, while others go strictly black and white all the way. You also get a sense of the pecking order. The best beloveds earning two page spreads, or their jackets front and center on the catalog’s cover.
As a Materials Specialist these catalogs are remarkably handy. Their uses, infinite. For example, just the other day I was asked to write a piece for an online site on behalf of the library recommending historical children’s books with a focus that can be used to pair with Black History Month. More to the point, they wanted 2012 titles. Now obviously I hadn’t read the books in question, but there’s something to be said for rewarding publishers for including diversity on their lists. So it was that I scanned the lot of them, pulling the titles that would fit the bill (We March by Shane Evans, When Grandmama Sings by Margaree King Mitchell, etc.). All told the process took me less than twenty minutes.
I also use the catalogs to check and make sure I haven’t forgotten to order something in a given month. Or if I want to recommend that one of my co-workers highlight or purchase something, I can just hand them the catalog.
So what are we to make of the current trend to turn such useful bits of paper into a thing of the past? Publishers of all stripes are now switching from paper catalogs to those of the electronic variety. So it is that you’ll find big guys like Scholastic and little fellas like Chronicle all preparing to go all ones and zeroes on us by the coming fall. The reason is undoubtedly price related. Full-color glossy gorgeousness ain’t cheap, no matter what your size might be. Why spend money on something you can offer for free (and to a much wider audience) online?
I will be watching this change with some interest. If the catalog switchover does affect sales, I doubt anyone will have the ability to tell. For folks like myself, I prefer catalogs in print form for much the same reason I prefer galleys that way. They may take up space but to be able to hand something to someone else physically means a lot when you’re trying to promote a product. If I can hand someone a catalog with a highlighted page, that’s going to stand out in their mind far longer than if I email them some easy-to-delete suggestions. But maybe I’m in the minority on this one. I’d be interested to hear how other librarians across the country use these catalogs.
Perhaps the time for a switch is long overdue?