One is the switch to the electronic catalog, which was exemplified by HarperCollins, and which I started to see with some UK publishers at London Book Fair in April.
In some ways, the paper catalog is a relic of a past age, and I can admit that. It's fixed. The London catalog for JABberwocky will always be out of date by the time I actually get to London and start handing it out. An electronic catalog can be updated regularly. It's very expensive to mail. Postage goes up every year, and my catalog gets bigger every year. With the percent of sales coming from major accounts as big as it is, you spend that ever-increasing sum of money to attract orders from a smaller pool.
So yes, if I can cut back on the number I mail overseas after the Fair because more of my sub-agents are comfortable sending a PDF to more of the publishers they work with in a world of translation markets, that makes me happy. Why, we even tried to enhance the PDF this year by turning the author names into links to the author's web site and by adding links from the contents page to the pages. I'd even like to go further in coming years by maybe turning each book or series title into a link to the bibliography and/or review quotes on the JABberwocky web site. Even if I might not want to pay to have the catalog updated along with the web site on a constant basis, it would make it very easy to get to the web site with the latest information, and most of those links would only need to be set up once and could then hold over as the catalog is updated in subsequent years.
But... I cannot envision that I would ever go to London Book Fair without a printed catalog to talk over during my meetings, or that I would ever go to a major or minor convention without a few catalogs in my bag to give away. If you worry about your catalog being on the bottom of some big pile, how much do you have to worry about the little postcard you give away with the URL to surf to later to get the catalog? At London Book Fair, Random House UK gave out postcards that often said "go to Randomhouse.co.uk" to get our catalog, which is just a generic home page link that requires you to find the right places to click to actually and finally get the on-line catalog. Didn't anyone think for two seconds that they should at least give a dedicated link on that postcard that would go right to the catalog?
Yes, the unit cost for printing 500 catalogs or 5000 is more than for printing 15,000. But it's penney wise and pound foolish not to print a single old-fashioned dead-tree version and rely entirely on electronic distribution.
I'm not a big fan of Harper's experiment in doing electronic galleys. The good news is that they can give out a lot more postcards for the featured books with the link to the electronic galley than they can of an actual physical galley copy. But I don't think any of the people in my family whom I traditionally scout galleys for at BEA will have an avid interest in being wed to their computer in order to read the books on offer from HarperColllins. I meant to bring up some of the postcards last week when I was visiting family to see maybe if, but forgot. This doesn't bother me quite as much as the catalogs because there is some clear possibility to end up distributing more free copies to the people who are willing, but I still think Harper would have been better off using these electronic galley cards to supplement some kind of old-fashioned print component instead of going entirely electronic. I mean, one of the biggest flaws to me on the Kindle is that you can't tell what it is that somebody's reading. I'd love to have, maybe with user option, a little screen on the back side that can display the cover of whatever it is you're reading. I hate that people don't know I'm enjoying The Washington Post on my Kindle, or that I had no way of knowing what the guy with a Kindle 2 was reading on the subway ten days ago. Harper may know how many people decide to download each electronic galley, but the rest of the world won't be seeing any visible sign of Harper's big new books.