DMA catalog membership flat

Although the exact numbers are somewhat unclear, one thing is clear: The number of catalogers that belong to the Direct Marketing Association catalog membership count has actually declined somewhat over the past three years.

In 1997, the DMA reported that out of its 3,838 members, 534 were catalogers. This past January, the association said that of its total membership of 4,831, just 504 were catalogers, a modest drop, but a decrease nonetheless.

“We’re not growing the number of catalogers consistent with the number of catalogers out there,” laments DMA president/CEO Bob Wientzen. “Most of them are very small, and can’t afford to join.” The DMA charges $595-$3,600 in annual dues for companies of up to $10 million in sales; $4,300-$14,000 for companies with sales of $10 million to $33 million; and $16,000-$35,000 for companies with sales of more than $33 million. As one longtime member (who requests anonymity), notes, “In a world where expenses keep escalating to the point where even companies are collecting employees’ frequent-flyer miles to subsidize air expenses, when you have to pump out $30,000-$40,000 in dues, that’s pretty expensive.”

Wientzen also blames consolidation in the catalog industry for the disappointing number of catalog members-on which point longtime DMA member Ted Pamperin, chairman of Summit, NJ-based catalog consulting and investment firm American Catalog Partnerships, agrees. He cites the collapse of a few big catalog conglomerates over the past few years-namely Genesis Direct, which once carried as many as 30 catalog titles, and StyleSite Marketing. “We watched Genesis acquire a number of catalogs, and ended up liquidating almost two-thirds of them,” he says. Even the successful conglomerates, such as Cornerstone Brands, Hanover Direct, and Foster & Gallagher, have left the DMA with fewer members.

Wientzen’s quick to point out the apparent growth in the number of brick-and-mortar retailers and Internet members in recent years, although the DMA’s categorization system is such that the agency can’t break out numbers among those members, Altobelli says. “A lot of the retailers who’ve been joining are also catalogers, but we categorize them as retailers. Same goes for the electronic catalogers, which we categorize as Internet marketers,” he says.

Some long-time members, such as Dress Barn catalog vice president/general manager Martin Alpert, who has been a member for years with his past catalog affiliations, believe the fact that the catalog membership number at least hasn’t plunged is a positive. “It’s probably good, since the catalog industry has been consolidating so much,” he says. “There are fewer businesses out there to spur the growth.”

Alpert believes that an increase in e-commerce companies will help the overall DMA membership grow once more e-commerce companies recognize a need to get involved in direct marketing and the DMA. “But the e-commerce members aren’t appreciative yet of the direct marketing vehicle,” he says. “They’re thinking they can bypass all the tried and true response-driven media and advertise in newspapers and TV, and the world will just click on them and they’re in business.”

Former DMA board chairman Robert Edmund, president of science tools cataloger Edmund Scientific, says that the catalog membership may be affected “by a fair number of small companies that join, stay a short time, then leave” either because they’ve gone out of business, been sold, or are just disgruntled.

Looking ahead, Wientzen says that while the DMA “continues to see cataloging and a cornerstone of the direct marketing industry,” the agency has no plans to aggressively build up its cataloger membership. “Our take is that we’re holding our own, picking up new players in e-commerce and retail, but not penetrating small catalog companies-which we never have. Our strategy is to improve our services that are attractive to small or medium-size catalogers, who benefit the most from DMA.”

While it was difficult to find catalogers that recently discontinued their memberships, Sportsman’s Market, which mails the Sporty’s catalog of materials for airline pilots let its membership run out last summer following the DMA’s Privacy Promise ultimatum for all members to offer opt-outs on their Websites. “We didn’t feel it was appropriate to sign that privacy promise,” says Sportsman’s Market spokesman Bill Anderson. “We probably would have maintained our membership, but didn’t feel strongly enough about it to sign that loyalty oath.”

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