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FLIPPING CATALOGUES - Could they help your business?

One often-overlooked development in our industry in the past few years is the online digital page flipping format. It all began in 2002 with 'page curl and flip' Flash conversion from a pdf, an array of companies now provide these online services, some using freeware as the basic background architecture. Tempted to dismiss it all as a gimmick? Take a closer look first and you might be surprised to find that it could offer you an additional way to interact with your customers and a valuable additional route to market.

As print and distribution costs increase, the digital page flip catalogue is particularly relevant to 'marginal' prospects: it could be the ideal way of presenting your product range via enewsletter links to those who might not normally visit your site. It's worth bearing in mind research that suggests prospective customers spend almost twice as long viewing an online page-flipping catalogue as a corresponding website.

The traditional page format still offers the ideal way to showcase content - even online - as 'turning the page' is a familiar, engaging and a satisfying action: something many websites find hard to emulate and which many potential customers, particularly older ones, prefer. It also enables you to showcase your products very efficiently in a structured way: using all the tried and tested offline sales techniques (such as pagination, hotspots and calls to action) as well as online devices (such as adding video content to enrich the format and incorporating affiliate links from adverts to gain additional revenue).

12 Questions you need to ask yourself:

How to start

The raw material is readily available: your studio can provide the standard pdf documents which can be quickly linked and converted to an SWF (Shockwave flash) flipping page format. Extra link functions can either be added within the professional version of Adobe Acrobat prior to Flash conversion or post production links added. Here your choice of supplier is critical as some software/service providers include some sophisticated functions whilst others provide them as 'add-ons' for which they charge extra. Many include hosting on their own super fast servers as part of the service; this ensures reliable hosting and quick page rendering along with reporting structures which can provide you with page view statistics, hotspot feedback, visitor numbers and duration along with reader behaviour and much more. Auto reporting of analysis can even have built-in email and text functions, and many provide easy imports to Microsoft Excel for your inhouse use.

You can further enrich your customers' online experience by embedding sound and videos into pages via FLV (Flash video) SWF (Shockwave Flash) and also include interactive questionnaires to enable customer feedback. The process of adding direct links to your shopping cart will enable customers to place orders off the page. RSS feeds and social media links are also easily added - to encourage readers to share their experiences with others.

Ensure you're 'future proof'

With the recent introduction of HTML5, many of these flip page providers offer an upgrade to mobile devices and work seamlessly on smartphones, iPhones, iPads, Google Android and other mobile devices. This is a massive developing market that won't require the download of an 'app' to use. It also enables your catalogue content to be viewed when and where the potential customer chooses - so you really are getting the best of all worlds.

How to get things moving

Many inhouse webmasters might question why they should even consider an online catalogue when all the information is already on their website. This is where you need to think about the additional 'route to market', whether an online catalogue could drive additional traffic to your site, and how useful it could be to add catalogue flipping files and links to emails and enewsletters.

Recent John Lewis catalogue with embedded video from Ceros

Which supplier to choose?

The question of which provider to choose can be mind boggling - an initial Google search for page flip software comes up with well over 30 companies - all offering what appears at first glance to be a similar service. I personally would question whether they'll all be around in three years' time, so my preference would be to go for an established outfit. Be aware that functionality on 'free' pdf-to-flash conversions can be limited and the provider's aim is to upgrade you to a paid subscription. Some companies sell software; others provide sophisticated content management solutions that are exclusively online; some do not charge to convert your pdf but do charge per hosted publication. More typically providers charge a monthly or annual licence fee. Which solution is right for you all depends on how many publications you'll need to host and what additional services you might like to include..

Article as featured in Catalogue & ebusiness Spring 2011

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