CATALOGS' HIT PAPER CEILING

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It's as if someone decided catalogers shouldn't keep on having it so good. Here the industry is one of the brightest spots in the marketing galaxy, and now soaring paper costs are stepping in to bring direct marketers back down to earth.

Things have been going so well that even Sears, Roebuck & Co. is celebrating a big comeback in cataloging, with its "niche book" strategy paying dividends after the company abandoned its huge, money-losing Big Book about two years ago.

With advertisers finally spending more bucks in print, newspapers and magazines have been dealing with the concurrent problem of rising paper costs for some time now. But apparently many cataloguers have been ignoring warning signs and going along as if the days of low costs and plentiful supplies would continue. Now they're facing the economic realities of a 55% to 58% rise in paper costs over a year ago. This on top of higher mailing costs. Some smaller direct marketers may not be able to survive, observers say. Prospecting could become a deadly sin.

As today's lean and mean ad agencies demonstrate, some good always comes out of economic adversity. For direct marketing, it will include more targeted efforts, more effective use of each page, improved technology to permit lighter paper.

With paper companies reportedly determined not to let prices dive in the future, direct mail seems destined to become a more efficient industry in the years ahead.

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