The catalog conundrum

So, I got a press release yesterday about Tri-Ed releasing its new 2010 catalog. I'd link to it, but it hasn't made it to the company's media room yet. And, yes, I understand the irony of the question I'm about to ask, but I found myself wondering: Why do they still print that thing, and even if they do print it, why do they try to make a big deal out of it? Isn't it basically outdated the day it gets mailed? Hasn't some product been added or another discontinued? Can't you find every single product the company offers online, and can't you keep that list updated to the virtual second, basically for free (there are costs in hosting and updating a web site, I understand, but they're minimal in comparison to the costs of laying out, printing, and mailing an entire product catalog)? Honest question: Do enjoy browsing distributor product catalogs to see what's available? Further, do you, when wondering about a product, flip through the index of the catalog rather than just log on to the web site and do a quick search? I guess I can see the utility of having the catalog in the back of the truck, so when you're on a job or a problem pops up in the field you can quickly look through and see what's available, but I would think Tri-Ed's goal at this point would be to print as few of these as possible -- maybe even print them on demand -- to save costs. But maybe not. I know my Net usage is significantly higher than most installers' and integrators'. That's clear. But the utility of an online product listing just seems to overwhelm the cost and inflexibility of a printed catalog. I'm frankly blown away when LL Bean sends me a robust catalog in the mail - why not save money and just drop me a postcard reminding me to search the web? I guess there isn't that browsability, though. When you've got 10 minutes to kill, maybe you do flip through the catalog and see something you didn't even know existed (re: LL Bean: "Holy crap! That new super-saucer sled looks rad!). That's the major problem with the search-focused web: You rarely find something you weren't actually looking for. You rarely just make discoveries. That's why blogs can be so popular - the good bloggers (or tweeters, for that matter) are like curators of the web, pointing out stuff you didn't know to look for. So, the question is, how do you combine the unexpected discovery of flipping through a printed catalog with the unbelievably more efficient search functionality of the web? A pdf-ed catalog emailed out, with search functionality built in, much like our digital edition? An online blogger at Tri-Ed that people could subscribe to who would constantly be pointing out cool new discoveries? Do you just continue indefinitely to both print and publish online? At some point, killing trees will become passe (we're on that track with our publications, it's just that the track is of indeterminate length - and right now it's looking pretty long, indeed), but only if the non-dead-tree alternative is just as good, or better, than the dead-tree version. Are we there yet? For the product catalog, pretty clearly not. Tri-Ed (and ADI, etc., of course) are still investing big money in them. Here's what Tri-Ed has to say on the matter:
“We are very proud to offer our customers this comprehensive new Product Catalog for 2010,” says Pat Comunale, Chief Operating Officer for Tri-Ed. Dealers and integrators can find everything they need in Tri-Ed’s 2010 Product Catalog to stay competitive and on the cutting-edge of the latest technologies. Copies are available at every Tri-Ed branch location as of the end of December, 2009. Or, to request a catalog by phone, please call 1-888-874-3336 (U.S) or 1-800-398-7282 (Canada).
Get yours now.


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My company prints a 481 page catalog that I helped work on, so far be it from me to bash catalogs. In fact, paper catalogs (and all other forms of dead-tree media) will persist until mankind figures out how to eliminate the need for bathrooms.

Sure, sure, I know lots of people use their smartphones in there (ew) but no one really prefers it, and the screen size will never be good enough to be better than a magazine or newspaper or catalog.

I come across things I never knew I was looking for all the time, but my Google fu is strong.

I agree with Ed on this one. The digital edition of Security Systems News is the closest thing to a hard copy magazine that I have seen. Unlike a conventional web page, they have somehow made it so easy to read from a computer screen. I didn't think that was possible until I saw it for the first time. It's always nice to get your hands on a newspaper or a glossy magazine, but I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a catalogue, sorry catalog.

Great take on the current state of print versus reality within the security integration business (which probably accounts for the majority of people reading this web site and this blog).  Although it may be a heck of a lot easier to bust out the Aiphone catalog to piece together an AX-Series intercom configuration, the fact is that as the business gets younger, more and more people in this industry will immediately visit a web site to design a system.  There must still be a high demand for the fingers touching the paper, the same reason many integrators within this field are still installing analog camera systems.  If one single distribution channel could monitor each manufacturer's product line through their web page, list the discontinued parts, then lead me through their site to the replacement part to the legacy device, I would buy from them everyday.