Amazon.com Test a Genuine Print Book

What’s the deal with Amazon.com? In a November interview with Catalog Age, spokesperson Carrie Peters insisted that the Seattle-based online behemoth was not interested in getting into the catalog business — even though it had just mailed 10 million copies of a 24-page holiday book. Since the holiday catalog did not have a direct response mechanism, such as a toll-free order number, the $2.89 billion Amazon described it as a traffic driver for the Website.

But in mid-April, Amazon test-mailed a 48-page catalog, complete with a toll-free number and a paper order form. The Home catalog, which has the hefty tagline “Tools & Hardware, Outdoor Living, Kitchen & Housewares,” includes 13 spreads selling woodworking tools, five spreads of kitchenware, and two spreads of health and personal care.

According to Rich Mathews, general manager of Amazon’s tools and hardware division, the company is leveraging its Grand Forks, ND-based subsidiary Tool Crib of the North, a catalog that Amazon acquired in October 1999. (Amazon also owns Herndon, VA-based toy catalog Back-to-Basics, which it bought in November 1999.) Mathews says the Home catalog mailed to an equal mix of Amazon buyers and Tool Crib of the North buyers, though he would not reveal circulation figures. Tool Crib’s call center is taking calls for the book, while Amazon is handling fulfillment out of Seattle.

Mark Rowen, a senior Internet analyst with New York-based Prudential Securities, sees the Home title as simply an extension of the Tool Crib of the North catalog but mailing to Amazon’s larger audience. “I don’t think the emphasis is on growth,” Rowen says. Rather, “Amazon is trying to sustain that business. Mailing the catalog is inconsequential” in Amazon’s overall company push to profitability — a topic of keen interest to Wall Street investors since Amazon opened its doors in July 1995.

So will Amazon be mailing catalogs on a regular basis? “I wouldn’t read too much into this,” Mathews says. “We still consider ourselves an Internet company at heart. This doesn’t signal a dramatic swing for us.”

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