IPC extends brands with catalogue plans

Executives at magazine publisher IPC believe they have devised the perfect brand extension. They have just launched two pilot home shopping catalogues linked to their magazines.

The Woman’s Weekly home shopping catalogue was published as a loose insert in the magazine last month. Another branded pilot, the Your

Garden home shopping catalogue, is to be banded to the May edition.

The catalogues sport the title’s masthead, include a letter by the editor inside the front cover, as well as “editor’s choice” boxes next to particular products, highlighting why these items are especially good value. Masthead home shopping can benefit magazines by exploiting readers’ goodwill as well as adding another stream of revenue. Items available include clothing, furniture and electrical goods.

Julia Porter, business enterprises director for IPC, says: “Given that we know about the audience we should be able to tune the catalogue to the magazine and the readership. This makes for a very successful combination. Also it is a positive service for our readers and potentially for our advertisers.”

The logic for IPC extends further, according to Porter. The database built from the home shopping service could be made available to advertisers as part of an added value service. IPC will also be able to generate extra revenue through the sale of its lists. In addition, advertisers may be able to place goods in the catalogue and benefit from an editorial endorsement of their product.

The company is not the first off the blocks in the UK with masthead home shopping. National Magazines’ postal version of Country Living débuted in the magazine’s November issue. In addition, EMAP is planning to extend its Red Direct information line into a full mail order service.

IPC’s catalogues will be assessed over the next two months and, if successful, will be rolled out to other titles across the company’s 70-strong portfolio of titles. These could include women’s weeklies such as Woman, Woman’s Own and Now, plus home interest titles.

“If this is successful, we will definitely extend it to other titles,” says Porter. “Mail order is a growth business and this type of shopping is on the increase – you only have to look at the way the market has gone in the US.” There is also the potential to develop the catalogues into TV home shopping with the advent of digital TV.

However, sources in the media and catalogue industry warn of the risks publishers face in getting involved in the catalogue market.

The first is the publishers’ lack of expertise in stock control, a problem which does not apply to retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Boots, which have both launched catalogues in the past year. For these companies, inventory control is second nature.

IPC could find it has a lot to learn about ordering the right amount of stock, knowing which lines are going to sell well and not running out of those best-selling products. While publishers have done mail order from the page in the past, the levels of inventory have been smaller.

“When you launch a catalogue programme there are two key costs,” says Robert Grech, principal of mail order consulting partnership the Catalog Workshop. “The first, which can be very large, is recruiting the customers and the second is inventory which is potentially a major liability. If you already have a signif- icant database in place like IPC then you already have the first half of the equation.”

It is likely that IPC will bring in another company to manage the stock or it will enter an agreement with an existing catalogue company.

IPC also risks incurring the wrath of its existing advertisers in the catalogue business which would not want to advertise alongside a competitor with such an obvious editorial endorsement.

“That is a danger, and I think that it does risk upsetting existing advertisers,” says Jackie Almeida, director at media agency CIA Medianetwork. “But this whole idea is about creating a better relationship with readers and I think this is a very good thing.”

The other danger is that the catalogue, if not strictly controlled, could become more of an advertising vehicle than an editorial product. “If you allow the advertiser to take control you are in danger of impinging on the trust of the reader,” says Almeida. “The publisher has to ensure that the magazine is editorially-led,” she adds.

There has never been a better time for publishers to get involved in catalogues as they look for points of difference in an increasingly crowded market. But the UK home shopping sector, which is worth nearly 8bn, has been growing slower than the rest of the retail market. In 1996, it grew at over three per cent, just in line with inflation. In 1995, it declined by 2.1 per cent.

An editorially-led product which has a good understanding of its reader will be crucial to the masthead catalogue’s success. If it can be successfully translated into goods that can be delivered as effectively as other catalogue services, the publishers may indeed have found the ideal brand extension.

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