If Prospecting Was Illegal, Would Your Catalog Survive?

Does your firm mail catalogs? If not, move along, nothing to see here, good day. sears catalog OK, nobody left here but us catalogers. Question: Are you following what is happening over at CatalogChoice.org? As of today, the Catalog Choice file is, according to their homepage, "685,948 persons strong, opted out of 9,030,504 catalogs". As of today, "Catalog Choice" returns 41,400 hits on Google. As of today, CatalogChoice.org has 30,200 inbound links, according to Yahoo site explorer. Just in a few months. They're growing fast, and their growth is viral, so it is likely their growth rate will increase. Oh, and they're not spending ad dollars to grow. The blogosphere and traditional media is doing it for them, essentially for free. Remember the outbound telemarketing industry? When citizens collectively decided that unwanted calls at dinner were annoying, the do-not-call list and accompanying legislation arrived amazingly fast. Poof -- the outbound B2C telemarketing industry, gone. Could the same happen to cataloging? What do you think? You think your recent catalog buyers enjoy getting your book 12 times in their first year? Yeah, I know you've tested it and all those segments are profitable. But sadly your buyers don't give a whit about your P&L. Go and read some comments on the Catalog Success blog. Here's a link, I'll wait until you're back. Doesn't give a warm fuzzy happy feeling, does it? To be clear, CatalogChoice isn't the BadGuy here. CatalogChoice isn't out to destroy the catalog industry. That may indeed be the result, but that isn't their goal. They're just a mouthpiece. They're funneling a larger sentiment of many people. People wondering why if unsolicited commercial email is illegal and rude, how come unsolicited commercial postal mail is allowed? People justly questioning the environmental impact of an industry built on a 1% response rate. How quickly could all this grow? Remember CAN-SPAM and Do-Not-Call? I'd wager pretty quickly. Taking a stand against unsolicited catalogs is (or soon will be) mom-and-apple-pie patriotic. Check out this video on MSN on "school children challenging each other on to see many catalogs they could cancel." (4175, if you were wondering.) Prospecting will be hit hard. It wouldn't surprise me if in the next 18 months we saw legislation proposed in California to make the list industry and the catalog coops illegal. Probably wouldn't pass, interstate commerce rules or some such angle, but I predict it will be proposed. But this goes beyond prospecting. This will cut right into your 12 month housefile. It is already starting to happen, a bit, for some catalogers I've spoken to. More on the buyer file angle in a subsequent post. A prediction: Catalog Choice will impact your Holiday '08 results. And not positively. So... what does direct response look like when "push" marketing is not longer accepted, or allowed, or perhaps even legal? Businesses models will need to change, and change fast. Some catalogers will evolve and survive and flourish. Many won't. If you're a cataloger, what are you thinking? Please comment. More on this to follow.
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