Golf Digest Magazine Enters Catalog Business

Golf Digest magazine is taking a swing into the catalog realm. In June the Wilton, CT-based division of Advance Publications launched the 36-page Golf Digest Pro Shop catalog with a mailing to fewer than 100,000 of its 1.5 million subscribers.

Although he won’t reveal specifics, director of business development Rocky Hansler says that response during the catalog’s first four weeks exceeded expectations for its entire eight-week anticipated shelf life. The book sells name-brand golf clubs, balls, training aids, shoes, and bags. The print catalog follows the January launch of the online Pro Shop catalog on Golf Digest’s Website. Norwalk, CT-based retailer Golfmor is handling fulfillment for the online and print catalogs.

Golf Digest, which also publishes Golf World, Golf World Business, and Golf for Women magazines, tested segments of its magazine databases for the initial mailing. In addition, the company polybagged copies of the catalog with newsstand copies of Golf Digest and distributed about 10,000 copies to spectators at the Western Open golf tournament in July in Lemont, IL.

Golf Digest isn’t the first magazine publisher to start a catalog. Essence, a magazine for African-American women, operated Essence by Mail for nearly 20 years before closing the catalog down this past January. And Sports Illustrated ventured into the catalog business briefly in the mid-1990s, but the book never took off.

Some rival mailers are concerned that a catalog offshoot of a special-interest publication such as Golf Digest could present a conflict of interest. For instance, says Al Bessin, co-CEO of cataloger The GolfWorks, if the magazine comes out with an equipment rating survey and the catalog sells some of the equipment, “you have to wonder about objectivity in the magazine.”

But Hansler insists that the catalog will not influence magazine editorial and that articles in Golf Digest will continue to impartially discuss equipment sold by rivals of the catalog. “There’s a very strong division between church and state here,” Hansler says. “The catalog is an added service that ultimately supports our core business, which is subscription and advertising.”

Golf Digest may offer magazine advertisers preferred placement of their products in the catalog, however. “There will be some opportunities for some of our clients with what we’re doing in the catalog as we grow in scale,” Hansler says. “But in terms of ad positioning in the magazine and page allocation in the catalog, we’re really basing our decisions on the core product mix and what ultimately our customers will respond to.”

Going forward, Golf Digest plans to mail 200,000-500,000 copies of a holiday catalog in November that will run 52-64 pages and will likely sell apparel as well as hard goods. Apparel is “a category where you can get in your biggest risk from an inventory standpoint,” Hansler notes, “so we want to make sure we have the core product mix available.” Hansler also expects to polybag the holiday book with newsstand copies of Golf Digest magazine. As for next year, the company will probably mail three or four editions during peak golf equipment buying seasons, such as early spring and holiday.

Greater challenges for golf mailers

With Golf Digest‘s entry into cataloging, competition is heating up for golf mailers. In November, Web marketer The Golf Warehouse began mailing an 84-page print catalog; a July mailing reached 900,000 customers and prospects, says president Mike Marney. Although he won’t reveal sales, Marney says that the catalog now represents 20% of overall revenue.

What’s more, when it launched its catalog, Golf Digest stopped allowing catalogers to rent its subscription list, although the list is still on the market for other types of businesses. And as Bessin of The GolfWorks points out, “Golf Digest was one of the main sources of names for golf equipment catalogers to prospect with.” Recently, however, Bessin has found the subscriber file of Golf Digest competitor Golf magazine to be an even better source of names, as its editorial is now more equipment oriented.

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