30 Where the Type is Set
The Composing Room, a view of which is shown on the other side of this card, is one of the busiest workrooms in the City of Chicago, and here are employed more than one hundred skilled printers who set the type used in the printing of all our catalogues, big and little, and all of the blank forms and stationery used in our business, As in every. other department, we have employed the very best machinery, tools and equipment, with superior lighting and ventilating facilities, very important considerations in every printing office, and here every line you read. on this card or any page of ahy of the catalogues you receive from us, is set in type. The enormous amount of labor required to produce our Big General Catalogue with its 1,200 pages can hardly be understood by anyone who sits down and peruses its pages. This great book with its 100,000 price quotations, its 10,000 illustrations and 1,200 pages of descriptive matter is entirely made over twice each year, and for mo,re than three months each Spring and each Fall, more than one hundred men and women, are busily engaged in handling the type and illustrations which enter into its composition. The value of each page in our catalogue has become so great because of the quantities of this catalogue sent to our customers throughout the United States that we must economize in the use of paper and ink, and for this reason you will find the pages crowded full of a mass of information of value to you. We do not waste a single inch of white paper; and while the type is smaller than we would like to use, and our descriptions in many cases are brief, the stocks of merchandise we carry are so large that if we were to enter into a detailed description of each article sold by us, we would be compelJed to issue a book several times larger than our present catalogue the largest mail order catalogue in existence.
The Printers’ Ink, July 17, 1917
Mail-Order advertising is of printed salesmanship that must really sell in order to be called successful. When once we recognize this fundamental distinction between mere publicity, or selling help, and actual storekeeping by mail (in England they call it the Postal Trade), we realize that mail-order advertising which causes goods to be bought, must require more definitely standardized methods and technique than other schools of advertising which hope merely to get goods talked about.
It is estimated that during 1916 the American people spent more than three hundred million dollars with the various general merchan dise and specialty houses whose sole selling effort is contained in their printed catalogues. Such an achievement makes the catalogue itself an object of the greatest interest to the student of advertising.
Mail-order catalogues divide themselves naturally into two phases, the editorial, and the phys ical, and it would be difficult to say in which of its aspects the catalogue has undergone a greater evolution. The first catalogues soliciting orders by mail were far from the editorial standards of to day. Terseness of statement was
unknown and truth was of so little account that the catalogue com piler of twenty-five years ago frequently pursued his course with a mind unhampered by facts or by specific knowledge of the article to be sold. Such a policy led to the early demise of many pioneers in this new field, and those who survived were enabled to do so only by radical improvement in their morals and conduct. To-day it is not too much to say that the printed word of the mail-order catalogue is more exact, more moderate, more reliable, than is frequently the spoken word of the salesman.
Not many years ago a mail order house made a distinct con tribution to the integrity standards of the business world in a little booklet entitled “Calling a Spade a Spade.” In this booklet, the customers of this house, who include more than 25 per cent of all the families in the United States, were notified of a definite intention to call things by their real names, regardless of increase or decrease in business as the re sult of such policy.
Among the changes produced by the rule to call things by their right names, none was more pro nounced than the change necessi tated in the nomenclature of furs. It had been the practice for many years, and even now the practice has not died out entirely, to call furs by so-called trade names, concealing the real name of the animal whose hide was taken. These trade names in some cases were obviously false; in others merely misleading, having been adopted innocently for the most part by manufacturers who discovered clever methods of imitating rare furs by means of relatively cheap skins. Owing to the great in crease in the use of furs during the past twenty-five years, the rare pelts, such as mink, seal, sable, and others, became so scarce that few could afford to pay the exorbi tantly high prices.
Under the elaborate system of misnaming that developed, clipped muskrat was readily turned into Hudson seal, while other cheap skins were sold as Baltic seal, nearseal, or electric seal. The long and unsheared rabbit fur, variously colored, was sold as Russian, Canadian, or Australian lynx ; ordinary Thibet sheepskin was marvelously made into mar ten ; common weasels and mar mots turned up in exclusive shops as Russian and Japanese mink; and the simple coney or French rabbit was turned at will into al most anything. During the past five years the practice of calling furs by their right names has be come almost universal. In this matter it is important to note not merely that the business world made progress toward the truth, but that a mail-order house started it.
Calling things by their right names did not, of course, stop with furs. Storekeeping by mail, impatient to approach 100 per cent efficiency, countenances no misstatements whatever; it is aggressively honest at all times. When the British weavers devised the process called mercerizing, by which cotton fabrics are given a luster resembling silk, they opened the doors for endless deception which remained until the matter-of-fact mail-order catalogue re moved it. Mixed fabrics of all sorts, whether they be cotton and silk, or wool and silk, or wool and cotton, are plainly and honestly analyzed in each description. A fabric must not be called “all wool” if it contains from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of cotton as many mixtures do. A so-called silk fabric is not “all silk” or “pure silk” if it be cotton mixed or loaded with tin to increase its weight and apparent quality.
The capacity of all manner of cooking and household vessels and utensils required correction and standardization. The true weight and correct labeling of foodstuffs necessitated in itself a small revo lution among manufacturers and canners.
The rated power of gasoline engines and other farm machinery was in a state of chaos until sys tematic reforms were instituted.
In practically all lines it was once customary to accept the de scriptions and specifications of manufacturers regarding their own merchandise, but the policy of tell ing the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, soon pointed out the weakness of manufacturers’ standards. To-day a highly or ganized laboratory is considered an essential part of every large catalogue institution, where facts are obtained at first hand, based on exact knowledge instead of conjecture.
HIGH EDITORIAL STANDARDS
Hand in hand with rising standards of merchandise go the editorial standards of mail-order catalogues. Furs, foodstuffs, tex tiles, metals, leather goods, all are sold to-day by mail under condi tions of integrity and safety for the purchaser unknown in trading by any method twenty years ago.
It is worth noting here that the honesty of the mail-order catalogue preceded by some years all organized effort for better and more truthful advertising. When the catalogue started out to re form itself, there was no National Vigilance Committee, nor in fact, any national or international asso ciation of advertising clubs. The reforms undertaken looked solely to more business, and not merely to getting more business, but to keeping it. There is a rather fine distinction here that we may oc casionally forget. All sorts of spectacular typographical and rhetorical violence may be used to get business, and even to-day in our standard publications, such methods are not rare, but to keep business something more fundamental is needed.
The modern mail-order catalogue starts out by promising nothing that it cannot deliver. It obligates itself absolutely to sat isfy, it voluntarily appoints the customer the sole judge of his own satisfaction, from whose decision there shall be no appeal. These are serious obligations, to be fulfilled by nothing less than service, fundamental and uncompromising. This may not make so dramatic an appeal as advertising copy of the “spell-binder” variety, but it is more profitable.
But in its perfected state, the mail-order catalogue cannot stop at merely telling the truth. . It must go on and take the responsi bility for the ultimate satisfaction of the purchaser with his pur chase. That means in some instances that the seller must guar antee the results obtained from the article bought
TASK OF MAIL-ORDER COPY.
The details of mail-order copy must, of course, adjust themselves to the peculiarity of the selling plan. Mail-order copy must sell directly and without recourse to assistance or augmentation of any sort. It must describe clearly and completely without the waste of a word or a punctuation mark. It must omit nothing that can com plete the visualizing of the article to be sold. It must rigidly ex clude the superfluous, the redund ant, the extraneous, anything that would tend to cloud the mental image so necessary to consummate a sale. It is unnecessary to repeat that it must be scrupulously truthful down to the smallest de tail. It should strive above all things to establish confidence, something that a loud, flam boyant or exaggerated style of copy can never hope to gain. If mail-order copy were an exact science and could boast an axiom, it would be “Avoid Stating Conclusions” — state the facts and let the conclusion follow naturally in the mind of the reader.
Where a selling argument cor responding to the verbal ammunition of the salesman appears to be necessary, this condition may well be met by means of an introduction or editorial display, deliberately set apart from merchandise description.
When we come to discuss the illustration of mail-order advertising, we are at the very fountainhead of its selling power; without adequate illustrations, selling by mail would be utterly out of the question. More than a quarter of a million dollars are appropriated to pay the bill for drawings and engravings in each of the several leading mail-order catalogues. These pictures encompass the whole range of the graphic art, from a crude fifty-cent zinc etching to an artistic multicolor process plate at three dollars a square inch. For the mail-order catalogues, the wood engraver’s apprentice cuts his first block of a tin dishpan and under the same patronage, the newest, most popu lar, most pampered, and most overpaid genius of decorative painting may create his master piece for the cover of a fashion catalogue. The trade of wood engraving would probably be extinct in America to-day were it not for the requirements of mail-order catalogues, whose cheap paper and rapid printing lend themselves admirably to illustrations by this old and time-tried process.
In the realms of illustration for mail-order catalogues, standards of truth come to the front just as prominently as in copy writing. It is almost axiomatic that whatever is best illustrated will have the largest sale. It then becomes our problem to obtain the “best” illus tration consistent with the “best” ultimate result and that is, as al ways, the satisfaction of the pur chaser. Naturally, we cannot give our fancy free rein in making pic tures attractive any more than we can be unrestrained in our lan guage when describing the pic tured article. To avoid exaggeration in words which convey facts is comparatively easy, but the dis tinctions between right and wrong in illustration are far more subtle. It is at once a matter of the great est difficulty and the highest skill to bring out in picture all the good points, all the features of desirability, and to press no one of the claims beyond reasonable realize the part of the purchaser.
Typography in mail-order catalogues has seen steady improvement over older models. The science of typographical display, so splendidly studied and realized by users of large space in news papers and magazines, has been slowly but surely coming into its own in the catalogue. In a general way the change may be noted in the simplification of type faces, the avoidance of smallest sizes, the improved judgment shown in dis play, the more moderate emphasis, the use of refinements such as page borders and hand-lettering.
VAST MACHINE FOR PRODUCTION OF CATALOGUE
The labor, physical and mechanical, involved in the production of a typical mail-order catalogue, is almost epic in its vastness. The book that furnished the text for these observations has sixteen hundred pages and is published twice a year, not less than four million copies being required of each edition. The industrial regiment of fourteen hundred people mobilized for its production com plete the preparations and produce the first bound copy in about sev enty-five days. Nearly five thousand sheets of manuscript are handled by copyreaders and editors. About eighty per cent of the thousand are thirty illustrations renewed in edition. If one each ordered one each of the forty-four thousand articles in a recent edition of this catalogue, the or der would make two hundred car loads of merchandise valued at three hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars. More than ten thousand page proofs are needed to satisfy the several checks, safe guards, approvals, and changes necessitated by the ambition to be 100 per cent perfect. The type is set in a composing room employ ing thirteen linotypes, four monotypes, and one hundred and fifty stonemen and compositors. An electrotype foundry with a daily capacity of 200 full pages makes the type forms into printing plates. A battery of thirty rotary web perfecting printing presses, con suming more than a hundred tons of paper each twenty-four hours, prints the major part of this catalogue; its color pages, more than a hundred in number, being assembled from various sources. And finally, a bindery with mechanical hands, limbs and brains, securely puts together and loads into freight cars sixty thousand or 150 tons of these sixteen hundred page volumes every maximum working day.
Under the improved system of distribution made possible by the parcel post, these catalogues are shipped by freight to about seventy-five distribution warehouses favorably located throughout the country. Each day typewritten address labels, representing the day’s requirements from custom ers, properly assembled by dis tricts, are sent by first-class mail to each distributing center. The warehouseman affixes the labels with the proper postage stamps for first, second or third zone. Rarely does a catalogue travel by mail a greater distance than 300 miles, and generally not more than 150 miles. The label may travel across the continent before being pasted on the wrapper, but it travels by first-class mail on the fastest trains. This rapid and efficient delivery of catalogues is cited merely as an instance of the economy possible in large operations.
In a catalogue factory, such as is here described, automatic operations supersede hand labor at every opportunity. Rolls of paper weighing half a ton each are un loaded by electric trucks small enough to drive through the door of a freight car. The same rolls are then delivered to the printing presses by electric cranes. Conveyors and endless belts handle the finished product. A suction system picks up waste paper and trimmings as fast as created and delivers it into a baling hopper, from whence it goes back to the paper mill to be incorporated into the manufacture of new paper. Suction cleaners of extraordinary power and capacity keep the entire factory free from dust and consequently reduce physical disabilities and industrial disease. An institution of this kind lends itself easily to spectacular statistics, but for the present purpose one more will suffice. In the mailing depart ment where catalogues, circulars, and booklets are dispatched, the year 1916 witnessed the astounding total of fifty-five million pieces.
In operating a business by mail, we do not weigh advertising as a force we may or may not employ according to whim. Without pri mary advertising, which is the catalog, a mail-order house would be like a store without clerks, or even like a shop without an en trance. The mail-order house, as observed at the beginning of this paper, is the only kind of distribu tor whose primary selling force, and frequently his only one, is advertising.
To sum it up, in the business of selling by mail, advertising at once endures its severest test and reaches its highest efficiency.