How much does catalog marketing really cost?

November 6, 2019

Catalog printing is a proven marketing strategy that introduces customers to your company and boosts sales. In fact, some companies exclusively market with catalogs – a testament to how effective catalog marketing is. Catalogs work year-round, but they’re especially important during the holiday season (the busiest shopping season of the year). You don’t need to be a major cataloger to earn sales with catalogs; even small businesses can launch profitable catalog marketing campaigns. The key is in understanding how much catalog marketing costs and knowing how to predict your ROI. Below, we answer the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of catalog marketing?
  • Will catalog marketing work for your business?
  • How much does catalog marketing cost?
  • How can you predict your catalog return on investment?

What are the benefits of catalog marketing?

Catalog marketing benefits include:

  • Customers look forward to catalogs: People love to browse through catalog pages and discover new products they’ll love and gifts for their favorite people, especially around the holidays
  • Targeted delivery: You can send catalogs to people who match your customer demographics, otherwise known as those who are likely to buy
  • Opportunities to educate and create desire: Multi-page catalogs have plenty of room to educate customers about which products are best for their needs, establish trust via helpful advice and create desire for your products through skillfully crafted descriptions and beautiful images
  • Shareability: People love to share catalogs with one another as they browse for the hottest holiday gifts, which has the potential to increase your reach exponentially
  • Trackable: Coupons, coupon codes and order forms make it easy to measure response rates
  • Direct sales: Time-limited special offers motivate direct sales, the ultimate goal of catalog marketing

Catalog for Two Trick Pony, designed by owner Laurie Johnston

Will catalog marketing work for your business?

Just about any retail business that ships can take advantage of catalog marketing, including:

  • Department stores
  • Clothing and Fashion boutiques
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Electronics stores
  • B2B supply stores
  • Hobby stores
  • Gift shops
  • Ecommerce stores
  • Home supply stores
  • Discount stores

If you sell it and ship it, catalog marketing will work for your business if you send well-designed, high-quality catalogs to a targeted audience. Special offers influence more sales, while discount catalog printing maximizes your ROI. Combine these factors into a strategic campaign, and you can expect catalog marketing success.

Catalog cover design by Michael Toussaint for Rope and Rescue

How much does catalog marketing cost?

Catalog marketing costs depend on a variety of factors including product photography and design/layout services, copywriting, catalog size, page count, and paper stock, and postage.

Product photography costs

You can shoot your own product images (or your supplier might provide them); otherwise, you might pay between $25 and $50 per product image. If your catalog has six images per page, for a total of 32 images, your cost for product photography with editing might be $800 on the low end.

Catalog design and layout costs

Catalog design and layout costs can vary significantly, but if you hire a designer at $60 per hour and they spend two hours on each page, for a total of 16 hours, you would pay around $960 for design.

Catalog copywriting costs

Like design, copywriting costs vary significantly. You can write your own copy, but if you hire a professional copywriter at 25 cents per word, and you have a total of 50 product descriptions at 50 words each, you’ll pay around $625 for copywriting.

Catalog printing costs

One low-cost example is an eight-page, 5.5” x 8.5” catalog printed in full color on 100 lb. gloss text stock with saddle-stitched binding. Printing costs would come to around $1,315 for 10,000 catalogs, but if you buy discount printing on sale you can get 1,000 catalogs for around $965.

Catalog postage costs

Postage on 10,000 5.5” x 8.5” eight-page catalogs on 100 lb. gloss text comes to around $3,000. You’ll also have around $1,950 in mailing services (addressing, sorting and mailing). If you don’t have your own mailing list, you’ll need to purchase one. Prices vary, but you can get a mailing list comprised of 10,000 addresses with advanced demographic targeting such as estimated income, homeownership and mail order buyers for around $400.

Catalog cover for The Paper Cub Co.

Catalog marketing total cost

Add it all up, and the total cost for our example catalog marketing campaign might be:

  • Product photography: $800
  • Design and layout: $960
  • Copywriting: $625
  • Catalog printing: $965
  • Postage, mailing services and list: $5,350
  • TOTAL: $8,700

That might seem like a lot, but keep in mind you might be able to find cheaper photography, design and copywriting options – or handle those yourself. You’ll also save money if you have your own list. Remove those expenses, and the total comes to $5,915 to print and mail 10,000 catalogs.

Want to save even more? You can have catalogs shipped to you and handle the addressing and sorting yourself. That would save an additional $1,950, so your total would come to $3,965.

For now, though, we’ll assume your cost will be the full $8,700. Can you make money after that investment?

How can you predict your catalog return on investment?

DMA-tracked catalog response rates vary between prospect lists (lists you purchase) and house lists (lists your customers have opted in to), but in general you can expect around a 1% to 2% response rate.

For many forms of direct mail, the response rate is only part of the equation: roughly half of those who respond end up making a purchase. For catalogs, however, a purchase is the response.

With that in mind, you can predict your catalog ROI. Let’s say, for example, your average catalog order value is $100.

  • If you send 10,000 catalogs and earn a 1% response rate, you’ll get 100 orders. Multiply 100 orders by $100, and your gross will be $10,000
  • Now, subtract your $8,700 investment and you’re left with a $1,300 return on investment
  • What if you earned a 2% response rate? You’d get 200 orders for a $20,000 gross. In this case, your return on investment would be $13,000.

As you can see, when you mail catalogs at volume a single percentage point can make a massive difference in ROI.

Of course, these numbers aren’t static and it’s important to note that your ROI will ultimately depend on your ability to reach the right audience, with the right offer, at the right time. Do that, and you can enjoy even better ROI: according to CNBC, catalogs sent to key customers at strategic times yield an average return of $3 for every $1 invested – and up to $9 for every $1 invested when sent to the very best customers.

Ready to boost sales with targeted catalog marketing? Do it for less with discount catalog printing today!

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The PsPrint Blog is a resource for graphic designers, freelancers, small business owners and fans of print marketing. You'll find helpful techniques on printing everything there is to print, including business cards, postcards, brochures, stickers, invitations, greeting cards, door hangers, magnets and more. The PsPrint Blog shares creative ways to improve your design and layout skills, and useful tips for marketing your business in any medium. We also like to have a little fun, sharing design inspiration and spotlighting some our favorite customers' printed pieces in our "Hot Off the Press" series.