How Do You Estimate the Length of a Catalog?

One of the first questions clients ask when they hand us a new catalog assignment is: How many pages will my catalog be?

The answer can be tricky. If the client has a previous edition of the book, we use it as a baseline. Typically the client has a page range in mind, a spending limit, or both. First-of-a-kind catalogs are a challenge because we may have only a product list but no idea how many pages it represents.

Estimating the page count is essential to setting the project timeline and budget. Fortunately, there are many different ways to tackle the job. We polled some of JP Enterprises’ catalog gurus for their thoughts.

JPEWhen a client comes to you with an all-new book, how do you give a page count estimate?

Matt Meister, Catalog Manager: If it’s all new from scratch, it’s best to do a sample layout spread of a product page — that will usually give you a good idea on how raw data fits onto a page and you can just do the math from there, given that the data for each product is generally the same “size”. You need to take into account any specialty pages the client might want to add as well — ads, case studies, etc.

Chelsea Roeser, Catalog Manager: My catalogs are driven by the client’s suppliers, who submit Excel files with product information. Each product equals about half a page, just depending on how much detail is given per product. We do the math from there. When you are familiar with a client’s products, getting an accurate estimate is fairly easy.

Dan Skantar, Director of Content Services: If the client has other catalogs with similar products, I’ll compare those pages to the product list. Then I’ll make projections, one section at a time, to get a ballpark count of product pages. Then I add the estimated number of non-product pages and index pages for the final tally.

JPE: What is the best way for a client to get a catalog to meet their desired page count?

Lisa Curry, Senior Copywriter and Project Manager: Figure out how many products will fit on a page on average, and choose the right number of products for the book based on the desired page count.

Matt: Work with the client to edit to fit, cut content, etc.

Chelsea: I rely on constant communication between the client, their suppliers, and myself.

Dan: We’ve had great success with clients who create a book map. That is, they place every product on every page in an Excel document. It’s carefully planned as if they were stocking shelves in a big box store. We use the map as our guide.

JPE: Do any clients simply update an existing catalog, keeping the pages intact but cutting and replacing select products to fill the same space?

Lisa: Sometimes. If you’re a manufacturer, you’re probably not going to remove a product from your catalog unless it’s obsolete, so often, you’re keeping existing stuff and adding new stuff. But occasionally it works out nicely that a new and improved version can replace an outdated/obsolete version of a product in the same amount of space.

Dan:  Don’t see this very often. But “pickup-cut-and-replace” is one of the most cost-effective ways to produce a catalog because you are essentially extending the life of the previous edition with modifications.

JPE: Do Content Management Systems offer any page estimating solutions?

Dan: Yes. One of the higher-end CMS products gives you two options. The first is an automatic page builder that flows a section in the product sequence set within the CMS. It’s quick and easy but requires a level of design work to clean up page breaks. The other option is more labor intensive but more precise. It’s also like making a scrapbook or stocking shelves in a big box store. The user builds virtual pages using simple drawing tools and boxes which are linked to the products in the CMS. Both options eliminate a lot of guesswork.

JPE: What are some common hurdles you see when assembling a catalog?

Matt: On certain catalogs, suppliers commit to a number of pages before sending us content. We work with them to keep the content in line with their commitment but a lot of the times, they may buy more pages if their content goes over.

Lisa: Trying to stuff 25 pounds of “stuff” in a five-pound sack is not the recommended way to go. At some point, you’re just not giving the products a fair shake at selling themselves if there are too many crammed on a page and too little detail about any of them.

Dan: Too much content for too little space. Sometimes you have to wield the content pruning shears.

Chelsea: If two rival suppliers’ products cannot be placed near each other for competitive reasons, you have to work with the client to accommodate that.

Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services for JP Enterprises

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