Does anyone scan through Paper Catalogs anymore?

News Flash: In 2011, e-books outsold print books for the first time in human history. As of 2014, research has shown that just over half of the population of the United States owns a tablet computer or a dedicated e-reader. Why? The paper and pulp industry is the largest commercial user of water in the continental United States. It’s also the fourth largest contributor of toxins into our waterways, and the third biggest consumer of energy in the country. In short, printing costs everyone financially and environmentally.

So, it’s no surprise that the industrial world is following in the commercial worlds’ footsteps. In the Electric Industry, more and more companies are replacing paper catalogs with download links on their webpages, making all of the information available at the click of a button. But that brings up an interesting question: Are paper catalogs relevant anymore?

According to Walt Phillips, one of our best salesmen, paper catalogs will eventually become a thing of the past…but he doesn’t see it happening in his lifetime. Here’s why…

All of the manufacturers that Royal deals with are constantly creating new products to keep up with their competition. Consequently, their catalogs are constantly being updated with these new products, while old and outdated legacy products are deleted from their sales literature all together. This creates a problem, many refineries and factories in the U.S. and around the world (especially in 3rd world countries) are run by equipment that could be 20-30, or even 40 years old, and that equipment doesn’t appear in any recent online sales literature. At some point, the old legacy products are going to fail, and the refineries and factories which rely on them to function will be frantically trying to replace the parts to avoid down-time that could easily cost millions of dollars.

We all know that the internet is an invaluable resource that gives us access to an ever-growing cache of information (whether or not the information is useful is a completely different debate). But the internet doesn’t have all of the answers, and chances are that the facilities managers of these refineries won’t be able to find any relevant information on an obsolete 40 year old discontinued item. This is where catalogs come in.

Walt takes pride in being able to provide and fulfill that service to his customers. One of the mantras that Walt lives by is to ‘never say no’ to an item inquiry, but says “let me look into it for you.” Having a dedicated catalog library gives Walt the tools to be able to stay ahead of the game, ‘Git Her Dun’ and perform his demanding duties at a consistently high level.

But at a certain point, Walt does think that paper catalogs will become obsolete. Let’s fast-forward to 2050. Eventually, all of the equipment that was produced pre-internet will be replaced with newer products. When factories and refineries have a 40 year old circuit breaker in 2050 and it fails, the internet will have all of the information available that would be needed as the catalogs from 2010 would be available on the internet in some capacity.

Catalogs also take up a large amount of space, and careful indexing and organizing of a dedicated library takes a lot of time. I should know, I’ve been in charge of organizing Royals library for the past 4 months and it’s still not even close to where it should be. There are also spatial issues on the manufacturer’s side as well; not only does a company have to pay to print countless catalogs, but the cost of both the warehouse in which they are kept, and the shipping also factor into a manufacturer’s stance on paper catalogs in a digital age.

Human error also plays a role in why catalogs are still relevant too. Lots of times, the information that the internet has online isn’t complete, or doesn’t even correspond to the part that it’s in reference to. So when a customer needs a part, they’ll get the wrong part numbers and product specifications, which leads to them buying a part that may or may not be what they’re looking for. This doesn’t happen when they call Royal, because Walt cross-references their information with the catalogs to make certain that each order is fulfilled correctly and each customer is satisfied.

So while they cost too much to print, stock and ship, especially in today’s economy, paper catalogs still serve a very important function in the world of electrical sales. The time will come when catalogs are exclusively released via the internet, and when a dedicated sales literature library will serve no purpose, but according to Walt it doesn’t look like it is going to happen anytime in the near future.