This isn’t someone’s smartphone passcode – nor their credit card PIN
1564 is the year a revered elder statesman – an institution, really, in the publishing world – first saw the light of day. No, we don’t mean the Gutenberg Bible (that was even earlier); but in 1564, when the first trade fair catalogues – initially only for the Spring and Autumn fairs – made their appearance, there were no newspapers, no magazines, no yellow pages even, and trade fair catalogues might yet outlive them all! The first catalogues, of course, were hand-bound and very few were printed, but as new technologies kicked in, print-runs grew larger and the catalogues themselves became more colourful, more attractively presented, thicker and heavier, too, year by year until the digital revolution, when the trade fair catalogue partially dematerialized, went virtual, and began exploiting energetically the possibilities of the web. This is an oldster that gets no older. A wrinkly without wrinkles. A golden ager that doesn’t age. One is reminded of Cleopatra, of whom Enobarbus remarked that “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” Were he still with us, said Enobarbus would doubtless have something equally pithy to say of the trade fair catalogue. Alas, we will have to make do with our own more meagre linguistic resources.
But why is it, do you suppose, that generations of exhibitors and trade fair visitors have retained such fondness for trade fair catalogues, whether virtual or in print? Is it because their structure and intrinsic logic are so cogent, so intuitive, that they’ve become second nature? Their appeal must lie there or thereabouts. In the trade, we call this ‘user-friendliness’; because no one needs to be taught how to glean the information they seek from a trade fair catalogue. Their content is structured: the names of the exhibitors are invariably sorted alphabetically and accompanied by the stand and hall numbers of their respective booths; company logos and images enliven the overall appearance, and advertisements provide the liquidity that keeps the vessel afloat. They can be consulted swiftly, on the fly, in situ, for information of immediate relevance, or browsed at leisure in the evening or in the days following the fair. And whatever you seek there – be it a booth number or just inspiration – you will surely find. No one dips into a trade fair catalogue and draws a blank.
And why is it that we, who produce but seldom need to consult the things, retain an equal fondness for trade fair catalogues – particularly our own? Perhaps because, as Confucius put it, “the journey is its own reward”. With each issue of each catalogue over the years, we – like our illustrious predecessors, of course, with the means at their disposal and according to their lights – have sought, without corrupting its essence, to bring something new to the genre, moving steadily away from the classic, terse format to create a vibrant, now almost interactive, conduit of information.
One fact, however, must never be lost sight of: the trade fair catalogue brings customers and suppliers together, brings businesses together, opens doors. That is why it’s important, why we lavish so much attention upon it, and why it counts for something that the job not only be done, but done well.
A few of our favourites: