Live From the ACMA Forum: Catalog Industry Broken

Washington—The catalog industry is broken, according to Robert Bernstock, president of shipping and mailing services for the U.S. Postal Service. Huge postage rate increases have crippled many catalogers, he told attendees at the second annual National Catalog Advocacy & Strategy Forum, put on by American Catalog Mailers Association, and as such, “the business model is broken.”

The good news is that the USPS wants to help the catalog industry anyway it can. “We can reconstruct the entire supply chain to lower costs,” he said.

What’s more, Bernstock totally engaged the packed room when he suggested taking a “relook at the whole structure”— from pricing, service, and operational efficiencies. “We want the lowest cost delivery system,” he said. “We need to take a major relook at the whole structure.”

It’s no secret that catalog volumes is down sharply: Hamilton Davison, executive director, of the ACMA, reminded attendees that catalog volumes have sank 35% in the past two years.

But Bernstock stressed that “We’re not in this for anything other than the catalog industry to be healthy. The USPS is a willing partner in this. We have to increase the value of the catalog to the consumer.”

“Finding a solution to the ailing catalog industry is a priority,” said Tom Foti, manager of marketing mail for the USPS. “With cost and response there has to be a balance.”

Right now, there is not a balance there, he said. “We’re going to have to look at the whole supply chain. We have to increase the value of a catalog to the consumer.”

Customized pricing is another possibility, Foti added. Creating a new catalog product would bring “a spotlight on catalogs” and potentially fix an infrastructure with better organization and better business decisions.

“We have to turn the tide on catalogs,” Foti noted. “The value of catalogs often gets lost on the public.”