September 5, 2014 Last Updated 12:06 pm

Ikea parody video hits the right notes, but also reminds us why digital publishing is often better

Video for new printed catalog makes fun of Apple and digital publications, highlighting the great features of print while gently skewering tablets and digital publishing

Have you seen Ikea’s YouTube video for its latest product catalog? The video is a parody of Apple and digital publishing, in general. But it is done well and is not mean spirited.

Here it is:

The video is spot on. I really can’t argue with any of its points.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Those in publishing who love print the most, I firmly believe, are the ones involved in print publishing. As one digital magazine publisher said to me recently ‘if print publishers loved print as much as we digital guys do they might work harder to produce better print products.’

But the video also does a great job of promoting digital. How? It makes you think of all the ways a digital catalog is superior to a print catalog. Here are just a few ways:

  • Digital catalogs are portable
  • Digital catalogs allow one to buy the product instantly
  • Digital catalogs show what is in stock and out of stock
  • Digital catalogs can be updated instantly
  • Digital catalogs can allow buyers to share information with others, put items into reminders and calendars, post to social media
  • Digital catalogs are cheaper to produce (most of the time), and cheaper to distribute
  • Etc., etc.

Even Ikea has a digital catalog available inside the Apple App Store, so it is not like Ikea really hates digital, they were just having some fun and at the same time promoting their new print catalog. I loved it.

Ikea’s own digital app does a lot of things very right. The iOS app features a way to arrange furniture in your room to test configurations and future purchase, for instance. It also includes plenty of brochures so that the app contains more than only one product publication.

But the digital catalog itself is terrible in that does none of the things listed above while at the same time making a pretty poor effort to add in some digital enhancements.

The reason is that like many print magazine, newspaper and book publishers, it does little to rethink the basic concept of what a digital catalog should do. Like the old radio programs that were the earliest shows brought to television, they simply moved a product from done medium to another.

Ikea-iPad-catalogOften when asked for advice about how a publisher should launch their first digital edition of their publication I answer “don’t do it, do something different.’ The answer is designed to shift the question away from how they port over their print magazine to digital devices to thinking about what they really want to publish to digital devices.

Ikea is a big company with lots of stores in many countries… and with a huge catalog. There is no questions that moving to a more technologically advanced publishing product would be hard – after all, Ikea is still a store where you go to a showroom, take a tiny piece of paper and write the letter and number location of the product you want to buy, then go downstairs and search for it. It is so old fashioned that customers think it is quaint and love it (so do I).

But there is a better way to do catalogs, and in many ways Ikea’s fun video reminds us of the promise of digital publishing, even as it makes fun of its weaknesses.

One of the first categories to grow up fast inside the Apple App Store was for catalogs. Apple did not originally have a category for catalogs but added it in 2012.

2012 seems like just yesterday, but in the history of the iPad it is ancient history. Back then it looked like there was going to be a gold rush to start producing digital catalogs. Google saw the opportunity and launched their own catalog app, one that aggregated catalogs into one app. The idea seemed to make sense: shoppers would want a convenient place to find all their retail and brand catalogs and so would become loyal to the app (Google wins again).

Those early attempts at digital catalogs mimicked many digital magazines and newspapers: they ere replica editions of the print catalog.

But the app makers forgot something, something that the brands realized almost immediately: the branding advantage goes to the app maker not the brand.

So the retailers and brands started launching their own apps. Sadly, most are really just digital copies of the print catalog – no better and no worse than the equivalent work being produced by many magazine and newspaper publishers. As a result, the category contains plenty of both paid and free catalogs. Branded apps beat the aggregation apps – and that, too, is a lesson to be learned by publishers.

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