The weight of gardening catalogs

A few years ago, I use to work for a catalog company. And I learned a few interesting things about the direct marketing industry while I worked there.

One of them was something called paper weight. Paper weight is literally the weight of the paper used for the catalog. I know, I know, your first thought is “So what… Paper is paper, right?” But that is the interesting thing about it. In the direct marketing industry, it is not just paper. It is a psychological tactic.

That’s right, very long meetings are held over what the paper weight of any given catalog should be. Different paper weights are tried and and tracked to see if they affect the catalog’s sales. Paper weight is used by a catalog company to tell you what types of products are in the catalog in your hand before you even open the catalog or even think about the catalog in your hand.

So, now you are saying, “Well, very interesting, Hanna, but why exactly are you writing about this in a gardening blog? What’s it have to do with gardening?”

A lot actually. I don’t know about you but in any given winter season, I can receive a half dozen seed and plant catalogs in the mail in a week. Each one of them is vying for my money and each one has given at least some thought to paper weight.

My mother gave me a David Austin Rose catalog yesterday when I went to pick up my kids from her house. (That’s what got me thinking about this.) The David Austin catalog has a very high paper weight. It’s paper weight is at the same level as or even higher than the paper weight used in magazines. Before I even opened the catalog, I was thinking that there was some quality plants in this catalog, probably pretty expensive too. But very good selection, maybe some roses that are harder to find. This is all I thought without even opening the catalog. Frankly, before yesterday, I cannot recall ever hearing about David Austin Roses (I am not a rose person) so I knew nothing about them other than what the paper weight told me. I also thought, I can’t afford what is in this catalog.

Last week, I got a copy of Johnny’s Seeds catalog. That’s a low-medium paper weight catalog. The paper weight tells me that the quality of their seeds is probably good and their prices are probably very reasonable. But the paper weight does not turn me off. It gives the catalog an affordable feeling.

Then take a look at a catalog like Four Seasons plant catalog. That catalog has a paper weight that is like one step above newspaper. It screams that everything inside will be CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP. I will also be thinking buyer beware and that I will need to balance the low cost of the plants with the higher chance that the plants will not be as healthy.

Now, paper weight is not a 100% way to judge a catalog. Remember, I said it was a psychological tactic. Paper weight indicates these things to you, but the actual operation of the company may be different. A plant catalog may have high paper weight and crappy customer service. A plant catalog may have low paper weight (because the lower the paper weight, the lower the cost of printing the catalog) and have the best damn plants you can find.

I guess what I am saying is that now that you know what paper weight is, don’t let it fool you. Read your catalogs and do a little research into the company if you plan to buy a significant amount of plants or seeds from a company.

Now, all of you go running off to your stack of seed catalogs and see if you can tell the difference in their paper weight and more importantly if their paper weight reflects what is inside.

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