Catalog Critique: A Mailer of Biblical Proportions

Creating the perfect catalog is the Holy Grail for mail order marketers. Even a merchant of scholarly books on Near East and biblical studies may need some direction on the finer points of direct selling. That’s why Winona Lake, IN-based Eisenbrauns and Associated Publishers submitted its catalog for judgment. Critiquers Bill Licata, president of North Reading, MA-based consultancy LCH Direct, and Allen Rosenberg, executive vice president of sales for Marke Communications, a New York-based catalog marketing services firm, reviewed the 2006-2007 edition of Eisenbrauns. Time will tell if the folks at Eisenbrauns take the critique as gospel and practice what the reviewers preach.

Bill Licata

Although the catalog does not display a tagline, the Website describes Eisenbrauns as “specializing in the ancient Near East and biblical studies since 1975.” As I am neither a scholar nor an expert on the Near East or biblical studies, I realize that I am not among the target audience. The following comments, therefore, are those of a layman, and I apologize if any are inappropriate considering the subject matter contained in the catalog and the very specific nature of the target audience

The catalog’s front cover is attention-getting in its simplicity. I don’t recognize the image myself, but I presume the target audience will. The company name is prominent at the top and it is clear that “New Titles” are found within. This cover should be effective in getting the reader to open the catalog. But adding the tagline mentioned above from the Website along with the phone number and the URL would make the cover even stronger.

The blank back cover, however, is a waste. Because the catalog is addressed on the back, it is usually the first thing the recipient sees and thus is very strong selling space. Eisenbrauns should sell one or more popular titles off the back cover, and the phone number, the fax number, and the URL should be added to the postal address. It would also be a good idea to repeat the tagline on the back cover.

The choice of paper is appropriate for the catalog, and the four-page cover stock immediately enhances the presentation and the company’s image as one of quality. The 24 body pages and four-page cover are efficient to print on, and the total weight is under the 3.3 oz needed to qualify for the postal piece weight.

The soft background used on all the interior pages is effective. The black type overprints well, and the color invites reading. Plus the parchment-type look of the background is perfect for the ancient subject matter of the books. I do recommend including footers at the bottom of each page containing the phone and fax numbers and the Web address so that customers don’t have to search this information out.

The catalog is organized by book publisher, and each publisher is listed in the table of contents on page 2. While it may make sense to promote the Eisenbrauns books (which I presume have a higher gross margin) at the front of the catalog, unless you know your customers shop by publisher, some other form of organization, such as by subject matter or by author, would make the catalog easier to use and increase sales. There is an index of authors located in the back of the catalog on page 25. I suggest moving this to page 2 in addition to the publisher table of contents.

The allocation of product space is highly formatted. Pages 3-5 contain two products per page; pages 6-9 offer three products per page; and pages 10-22 have eight products per page (except page 12, which sells four products). The catalog would be much more interesting if the page density varied throughout.

Space should be allocated based upon sales potential for each book. A best-selling title might cost-justify an entire page, while very esoteric titles might require 10 or 12 titles per page. And if the pages are then intermixed so that a “hero” page is opposite a page selling a dozen titles, the catalog becomes much more interesting to the reader.

To fill the hero page, Eisenbrauns could write longer descriptions, adding interesting information about the author or the subject, and include a table of contents for the book being sold. Related titles could also be referenced on hero pages, which would stimulate multiple purchases.

The overall design of the catalog is static — even boring. There is a lot of unused space, especially at the beginning of the catalog, that could be filled with a larger image, bullet points, or other information about the book for sale or the author that might improve sales. If the placement or the size of product images varied from page to page, the catalog would hold the reader’s attention longer and encourage more shopping.

Speaking of images, several of the titles substitute the Eisenbrauns logo for the book cover. I realize these are all new titles and some of the books are yet be in print, but whenever possible the cataloger should at least use the preliminary cover art instead of the logo, to keep monotony to a minimum.

The copy is utilitarian and uninspired. For example, the full description for a book titled The Reconstructed Chronology of the Divided Kingdom: “There is no doubt that this book will be controversial; nonetheless, it will be required reading for anyone who wishes to pin archaeological and historical data within the framework of an absolute chronology.” And several of the books, especially on pages 14-20, contain no description beyond title, author, page count, ISBN number, and price.

The serif font used for body copy is a good choice for readability, but the point size after page 9 is too small for comfortable reading. Larger type and more-descriptive product text would help increase sales.

Because many readers begin from the back of a catalog, the inside back cover and its facing page are among the strongest positions in the catalog. Eisenbrauns currently uses this prime real estate for text pages, including the ordering information, the index of authors, and information about several journals. If these were moved elsewhere, this strong selling space along with the back cover could highlight — and sell — popular titles.

The order form (page 23) appears easy to use; eliminating the background color would also make it easier to read as an incoming faxed form. The ordering information, however, is located on page 25. It contains instructions needed by many customers to properly complete the order form. These details should be positioned on the same spread as the order blank to simplify the order process for the customer and eliminate costly and time-consuming calls or e-mails.

For certain, Eisenbrauns services a very niche audience and no doubt knows its market well. The design is simple and should be inexpensive to produce, but many of the basic rules of cataloging — which would help increase reader attention, ease of ordering, and likelihood to buy — are absent. These commandments of mail order success have stood the test of time. Unless there is a strong reason to break them, I recommend that Eisenbrauns follow more of the basics.

Allen Rosenberg

The logo on the front cover of the Eisenbrauns catalog is set as a masthead against the brown background and dominates the page. The explanation of what Eisenbrauns stands for is identified in copy at the base of the page — which is good, as the image does not succeed at conveying an immediate message.

On the back cover, the company logo and name establishes where the catalog is from — nothing more. The back cover is void of any selling image or message. With both the front cover and the back cover, Eisenbrauns misses an opportunity to reach out to its target audience. Without any call to action or sense of urgency, there appears to be no reason for the reader to open the catalog, whether that prospect reads front to back or back to front.

One message suggestion: There is an all-new journal, and the reader can “sign up now” to get the very first issue. The promotion for this journal is currently buried on page 25.

Also missing on the covers are the Website address and the phone number (which is not a toll-free number). Including these would give credibility to the Eisenbrauns brand, presenting it as a viable company with an established Web presence.

The purpose of the opening spread in a direct mail catalog is to position the brand and entice the reader to want to know more. It is also the place to highlight what’s new inside the catalog. For Eisenbrauns, the positioning is not in spread form but is limited to just one page, where it lacks impact.

The copy itself, which references the history of Eisenbrauns and its quality reputation, is clear: “For more than 30 years Eisenbrauns has published and distributed quality academic books to provide the scholarly world affordable and enduring reference books. We are pleased to offer this small sampling of the latest titles. For a complete list of available publications, we encourage you to visit our web site at 222.eisenbrauns.com.” It’s concise if not overly compelling; the main problem is that the copy is not designed to be read and doesn’t stand out.

The table of contents is ideal for quick navigation into the catalog for not only the titles but also the list of authors and “how to order.” What is missing in the table of contents is the location of the mail order form, which is on page 23. If it is an avenue of sales, the reader should not have to hunt it down. Likewise, there is no reference to the several journals published by Eisenbrauns — including the new journal I mentioned earlier — that are promoted in the back of the catalog.

The page 2-3 spread begins the catalog in earnest, but it would benefit from being designed more as an opener that prepares the reader for the pages of books to follow. Overall, the spread is not working to position the company adequately or to entice the reader to continue.

Throughout the body of the catalog, the text is presented in multiple type sizes and fonts, which is confusing and interruptive to the reader. It also looks unprofessional to have one copy block set in one size and other pieces of body text set in smaller sizes. All items in the catalog need to be presented in a design that helps the reader understand what is for sale.

Eisenbrauns needs to vary its layouts — by introducing hero images on spreads, for instance — while keeping other elements uniform. Consistency in the design elements, including type sizes, fonts, and product presentation, would improve the Eisenbrauns catalog tremendously.


Want your catalog critiqued?

Simply send four copies of the same edition, along with basic information about your target market, merchandise niche, and competitive advantages, to: Catalog Critique, Multichannel Merchant, 11 River Bend Drive South, P.O. Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242.

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