Thoroughbred Sales Catalogs -- Why Electronic Will Kill Printed Books

The familiar brown cardboard boxes arrived at the Blood-Horse building today and vultures descended immediately.  On delivery day of the most popular sale catalogs, you can tell who's friends with our shipping department director -- they're the ones who don't have to flock to the mail room to pick up their copies.  They get hand-delivery.  And their office doors remain closed for several hours.  Hard at work, no doubt.

It's been a couple of weeks since Keeneland released the huge November sale catalog online, but that doesn't dampen the enthusiasm for the printed edition. Some people just prefer a hard copy -- the ability to flip through the pages, to dog-ear their favorite hips, to carry the book around without worrying about being connected to the Internet.

Personally, I'm a fan of the electronic version of the catalog.  It allows quick searches of all the indices (including some not available in the printed books) ... you can create your own mini-catalog ... and you're already online, so if you find a hip that interests you, you can do some quick additional research.

These are all matters of personal preference.  There are two reasons that I think print books will die out in the next 5 years.

First, they're expensive.  I'd be surprised if the Keeneland November catalog cost less than $8 per set to print and mail.  Multiply that by thousands, plus maybe $4 per set for all the catalogs kept on hand at the sales pavilion, and we're talking a pretty big expense.  The Fasig-Tipton November book, with its full-color photos and slick glossy paper, is much smaller, but costs even more per book.  And sure, I know Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton do pretty well with consignment fees -- but think of all the regional sales that offer printed catalogs.  Sales where the median is in the sub-$5,000 range.  Those sales companies probably see the printing and delivery costs as a significant marketing outlay -- and would welcome a digital-only model for future sales books.

Second, printed catalogs are full of old information.  Really, really old.  (We discussed catalog updates at Thoroughbred sales early last month.)  Digital versions of the catalog will develop that offer up-to-the-minute data, including recent winners and cross-referenced research tools.  Imagine carrying around a tablet version of the catalog -- you get the most recent information possible and it's all in one place.  As a seller, I'd really like the catalog to reflect the most recent catalog changes for my sales offerings, too -- it genuinely alters the value of the horse being offered in many circumstances, especially with young mares.

One other improvement that I foresee with electronic-only catalog distribution is that the catalog pages themselves would be freed up, no longer restricted by the parameters of the printed page.  Right now, you'll find just the first dam and a few offspring for one hip, but four generations of dams with full race information for other sales hips.  It's because the sales company has exactly one page to fill for each hip, and some horses have deep histories while others are light on family history in their close generations. In the future, the catalog page can be exactly as long as needed, without arbitrary manual edits to fit the allocated space.

What do you think?  Am I way off on my five-year prediction?  Which format do you prefer when perusing the catalogs?

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