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J.C. Penney shelves the Big Book

Distributing a huge catalog no longer makes sense in the Internet world.

By Karen Datko Nov 18, 2009 7:06PM

J.C. Penney’s fall/winter Big Book is the last of its kind, as the once robust publication joins the Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog in the big recycling bin in the sky.

“The Internet has made the 1,000-page shopping venue obsolete, and printing and transportation costs have been rising annually. The move also improves Penney's environmental footprint, reducing its catalog paper use by 30% next year,” The Dallas Morning News reports. (These are truths that keep newspaper publishers awake at night.)


Much slimmer catalogs will still be mailed to targeted audiences, but their aim will be to direct people to Penney stores or to, rather than pick up the phone and place an order.


Big catalogs, thicker and heavier than the phone book in most towns, have a warm and fuzzy place in many people’s personal histories, the Morning News observes.

The arrival of a big book from Sears, Penney, Montgomery Ward or Spiegel were big events, especially the fall and winter books because they were studied long and hard to come up with Christmas wish lists.

The Sears catalog’s glorious 106-year run came to an end in 1993. Fans of that catalog can read a detailed chronology -- electric washing machines were introduced in 1910, Craftsman tools first appeared in 1928 -- at this Sears Archives Web site.


Spiegel has changed ownership several times in recent years, and the defunct Montomery Ward catalog was revived earlier this year as a marketing gimmick of sorts.


According to The Dallas Morning News, Penney's catalog sales peaked in 1999 at $4 billion. Its formerly mighty circulation of 14 million had shrunk to 9 million when the final edition came out.


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