Requiem for the Soft Sell of the Catalog

As retailers focus online, the 'serene' paper version will be missed

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 25, 2009 12:42 PM CST

(Newser) – Greg Beato couldn’t care less about the impending demise of print stalwarts like newspapers and magazines, but he will shed a tear when the flood of mail-order catalogs in his mailbox slows to a trickle. Where online shopping is “largely functional,” and TV ads “noisy and insistent,” catalogs are “serene” and “aspirational.” They’re a relic of the moment when America moved from “an age of scarcity to one of abundance.” And they’re a dying breed.

Many retailers are cutting the size or reach of their mailings to focus on online retailing. Sure, Beato writes in Reason, catalogs are usually silly, full of “fringed hand-loom rugs” that illustrate “middle-class decorating trends.” But at least the sell is soft—“It’s a quiet, meditative kind of relentlessness.” And “it’s hard to drift off into reveries about how much better the perfect overnight bag could make your life while shopping at Amazon.” The perverse beauty of the copywriting and art in a catalog is that it “enlists you to sell yourself.” Beato tosses them, but he’ll miss them when they’re gone.

A Lands' End catalog.
A Lands' End catalog.   (Getty Images)
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Slowly making one’s way through the serene, uncluttered pages of the latest Design Within Reach catalog, however, it’s easy to start thinking that all that really stands between you and true happiness is a sofa.
- Greg Beato

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