Digital Catalogs: Tomorrow’s New Trend?
Book publishers have used catalogs to sell their titles for many years. However, in this digital age, the advent of digital catalogs would seem to be a foregone conclusion, especially as many magazines launch digital counterparts. These digital editions—more than Web sites featuring content—actually mimic the print publications, some even creating a visual page-turning experience.
According to those in the digital catalog business, there may be as many as a dozen vendors offering book publishers the ability to recreate the look-and-feel of their print catalogs in digital form. Still, the concept has yet to become a sweeping trend. In fact, some solutions providers don’t target book publishers, and some have no book publishers as clients as of yet. But with a number of solutions now available, and some obvious benefits to book publishers and their customers, will that soon change?
Book Business spoke to several online catalog providers and their customers to find out how much of an impact digital catalogs are having in the marketplace.
The digital catalog market is “a fairly new market,” says Cimarron Buser, vice president of marketing for Texterity of Southborough, Mass., a provider of systems and services for electronic publishing.
Buser says digital catalogs—the ones that are essentially mirror images of their print catalogs—can save a publisher time and money compared to creating the print version of the catalog first and then creating a separate catalog online. “Our customers have thousands of items. Therefore, it is not feasible for them to simply post their catalog on the Web. It requires organization and database entry. It’s an investment in time and people,” says Buser.
Texterity offers a technology it calls Published Web Format, which takes a print-ready PDF file and converts it to a Web-accessible version, Buser says. Most book publishers want a higher-quality end product, he says, that can’t be achieved using an advanced software layout program and doing a “save as” for a Web page. Also, the Published Web Format does not require plug-ins or downloads.
“The advantage of this is that it makes it seamless to the user from any Web browser,” Buser says.
Conversion takes five business days. Texterity charges for content conversion based on the size of the catalog. Several hundred pages starts at $2,500. Texterity also charges a hosting fee, which is based on audience size, starts at $100 per month and increases based on audience size.
A Smooth transition
Penguin Putnam, Thames & Hudson, and Curriculum Associates are three of the book publishers that use Texterity for digital catalogs. Penguin Putnam chose Texterity because, “[It] was prepared to handle the number of book titles we had in the queue, including digitization work on Penguin Classics,” says Michael Neal, digital managing editor for Penguin Putnam’s online department. “We were also looking for as seamless a transition as possible of the workload, file archiving and delivery.”
To choose a vendor, Neal says a number of business models were evaluated based on the vendor’s ability to do the necessary work in a manageable time. “Cost,” he adds, “was not a deciding factor because Penguin Putnam was looking for a long-term relationship with its digital catalog vendor.”
While Neal would not detail the cost structure Penguin Putnam has with Texterity, he says the implementation was not without some unanticipated costs, “but nothing of extraordinary detriment.”
London-based Thames & Hudson needed to maintain its “elegantly designed print catalog online without the usual Web limitations,” says John Hawkins, director of Thames & Hudson Digital.
In addition, Hawkins says, after evaluating vendors and technologies, the company decided to go with Texterity’s Published Web Format because “it loads faster and does not require the customer to download any additional software.” He also suggests that Texterity has a fair and simple pricing structure, which allows his company to use digital catalogs to promote its advance titles more cost-effectively.
Texterity also offers an integrated tracking and reporting program that provides detailed data on who uses the digital catalog and how the user interacts with it, Hawkins adds.
Curriculum Associates, a North Billerica, Mass.-based publisher of supplementary K-8 educational materials, including books, already had an online PDF catalog as well as customized PDF catalogs. But, Texterity’s technology proved faster and simpler, so print-remniscient digital catalogs were added to what Curriculum Associates already offered, says Frank Ferguson, the company’s president.
The price structure Ferguson negotiated with Texterity was a fixed, three-year price for six biannual catalogs, and, he says, there were no additional costs.
Offering a familiar look
Dirxion (pronounced direction) is a 10-year-old company based in Fenton, Mo., that started in the online directory business for some 65 customers, including BellSouth and SBC.
“We moved into the digital catalog business about 18 months ago,” says Mark Thomas, sales and marketing vice president for Dirxion Software Inc. “We take the print catalogs book publishers produce and provide an exact look-and-feel duplicate online using the same files they send to a printer. … and make them interactive and searchable, and we then link them to an existing e-commerce site,” Thomas explains.
According to Dirxion, its main strength is its search capability, enabled with proprietary tools, and viewer-friendliness. “With regard to viewability, we have the ability to make a digital catalog as large or as small as the user’s monitor will allow … Some catalogs are limited in size, so no matter what size you make your screen, you can only view the catalog at that limited size.”
Thomas says most digital vendors charge from $8 to $30 per page, but this cost is still cheaper, he contends, than the printing and mailing costs associated with print catalogs.
The cost per page is based on the links required by the publisher, he says. This can range from having no links at all to linking individual product numbers and images. “A basic catalog has a few images per page and simple product identification links,” he explains.
Dirxion offers book publishers a 10- to 15-day turnaround time for file conversion. Book publishers, he adds, will initially use Dirxion to promote general titles with new releases added as updates.
To promote its digital catalog capabilities to book publishers, Dirxion has an online demonstration at http://AlphaOmega.Dirxion.com.
Sage Publications Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif. used this online demo in its product research, says Helen Salmon, Sage’s director of book marketing. Sage Publications chose the company based on the price structure offered, she explains. Sage will spend $20,000 with Dirxion in 2006, Salmon says, and will be charged a per-catalog fee plus a small hosting cost.
“Digital catalogs will allow our customers to click … through to the shopping cart on our Web site. Ordering online from a traditional catalog is more time consuming,” says Salmon. “Our customers are … used to ordering books online. We see digital catalogs making it easier for them ….”
Although there certainly are book publishing companies using digital catalogs, it is unlikely the print version will go the way of the typewriter anytime soon. “[Publishers] invest a lot of time, energy and thought into their print catalogs,” Buser notes. “They … are an important part of their brand marketing. [This also makes them] candidates for digital catalogs because they can leverage their time, energy and resources of the print catalog into an enhanced digital reproduction.”
David S. Chartock is a New York-based freelance writer. He can be reached at Chartock@aol.com.