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Primedia combines titles into new 'Multichannel Merchant'

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BY MARY ELLEN PODMOLIK

With the May 15 debut of Multichannel Merchant , Primedia Business Magazines & Media hopes to keep its advertisers from Catalog Age while wooing vendors that serve retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores.

Primedia announced last month that it was combining Catalog Age and Operations & Fulfillment to create the new title. The company said its intent is to better serve a marketplace filled with retailers that sell across many channels, not just through catalogs.

The change marks the final step in repositioning Catalog Age . Two years ago, its editorial content was revamped to reflect changes in the marketplace, and in January of this year the magazine was redesigned.

Jeffrey Reinhardt, Primedia Business senior VP, said he sees the name change as recognition of the broader issues facing the magazine's readers and the holistic view the publication must take to adapt.

"Everyone has become multichannel at least to the point that if you were a cataloguer, you have a Web presence," he said. "It's rare to find someone who has only a print catalog."

Reinhardt added: "There are many vendors who want to talk to people whose origins are the Internet or retail. [Multichannel Merchant] will allow them to talk to people they couldn't previously talk to. We weren't the right place to go."

Catalog Age was launched in 1983 and Operations & Fulfillment in 1993. Combined, the two magazines have a circulation of about 32,000.

While there was overlap within companies, Catalog Age was generally read by C-suite executives and Operations & Fulfillment by employees involved in back-office functions. There was little advertising overlap.

Media observers say the transformation makes sense, so long as it is executed well.

"It's always risky when you change a brand name," said Robert Crosland, managing partner at AdMedia Partners. "But if they really believe the economics and the mission of the publication should be driven by all of the different ways that L.L. Bean or J. Crew conducts business, let's face it, that's how those people sell product, through a variety of channels."

But James Padgitt, a subscriber to Catalog Age since its beginning, wonders if the broader content will appeal to him. Padgitt, a South Carolina-based independent catalog consultant, also received Operations & Fulfillment for a time but said he found it too technical for his needs.

"The people who read Catalog Age are different enough in interest from the ones focused on operations and fulfillment," Padgitt said. "Whenever you go from focused to unfocused, it's seldom a good thing, especially in the marketing area."

At least for a year, the phrase "formerly Catalog Age" will appear on the cover of Multichannel Merchant . The Operations & Fulfillment brand will not disappear entirely, as Primedia plans to continue offering webinars and other original Web content. Staffing levels should stay the same at the combined magazine, Reinhardt said.

Roland DeSilva, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, New York, applauded the change, saying it in no way indicated a downturn among tightly focused vertical publications. "There are 5,500 magazines," he said. "There are certainly no broad-based trends. What it is is a recognition of a market that is changing." 

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