Print still has a place, role in our lives

No, I didn’t walk two miles uphill with no shoes on to school.

But, “back in the day” when I was growing up the closest thing to today’s Internet probably was the U.S. Mail. As a youngster obviously I was not caring at all about the bills the postal carrier might bring with him to the house. All I was waiting for was another catalog, magazine or special gift package that I had redeemed from several cereal box tops.

And, especially at this time of the year, the “Cadillac of Cadillacs” in the catalog world was the annual holiday wish book from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

When that arrived in the mail it was pandemonium at my house as everyone wanted to see it. I discovered that the secret was to grab a quick look at it initially, but then give it up to the others in the family to look through. Patiently I would wait until it had made its rounds, then I would grab it again and this time, hold onto it as I slowly digested each page, imagining the sound of the Lionel train whistle on page 55 as it circled our Christmas tree or the speed race cars could attain on page 88’s Hot Wheels “Loop to Loop” race track.

The catalog was like gold. And each day I would scour it for more leads, more information as I wanted to make sure I had left nothing undiscovered.

The catalog was important, for it was the main source for a Christmas list each year. And trust me, there was not an item in that book that didn’t sound impressive. I’m sure many a refrigerator was sold to an Eskimo based on the wording that accompanied each listing.

Unfortunately, catalogs over the years became fewer and fewer — you don’t see as many these days. Sears did away with their “Wish Book” in the 1990s and today, on the Internet, you have sites like Amazon and others that are, in reality, one big electronic catalog of goods.

While I enjoy browsing the items at those sites, I miss the anticipation and excitement the print catalog always generated in my home.

And, in many ways the catalog and Internet interaction is the same as the printed newspaper and Internet. While readers make use of the digital version of the newspaper, if given their preference most still would opt for the traditional printed version.

It is that reality that made me smile this week as I read an industry newsletter article in RetailDIVE that talked about the catalog world. While there is no doubt catalogs are fewer today than yesterday — 19.6 billion catalogs in 2007 vs. 9.8 billion last year (Data & Marketing Association statistics) — they still serve a niche audience.

Even more encouraging, the largest generational group in the U.S. today, millennials, seem receptive to catalog ads. The article said that in a study by the U.S. Post Office, millennials were more prone to ignore digital ads (50 percent), than a catalog that arrived through direct mail (15 percent).

Finally, the article interviewed David Neumann, vice president of marketing for Boston Retail Partners, who said studies have shown consumers will spend 20 minutes looking at a printed catalog vs. spending only a few seconds looking at images online.

“When you have that physical catalog, customers might ponder it longer, even write notes on it,” he said. “It’s something you really can’t replicate in other media.”

Yep, it takes me back to my boyhood and that is exactly the experience that I remember.

Like it or not, there still is something magical about newsprint and ink.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.