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DAK and the Golden Age of Gadget Catalogs –

DAK and the Golden Age of Gadget Catalogs –

2023-11-06 15:29:45

Hello. My title is Cabel. And I’ve most likely obtained the best job in the entire world.

I put on many hats. However right here on my private weblog, I get to write down in regards to the issues I actually care about, only for you. And from the truth that you’re studying this weblog aLt all, I feel it’s possible you’ll be loads like me.

Nicely, prepare for this: I’ve been engaged on this put up for over 10 years.

How can that be? It’s easy. For a decade, I’ve been snapping up copies of a sure gadget catalog, one after the other, after they’re up for public sale. Gathering and ready.

The catalogs have been disposable, and which means not many individuals saved them. However, to me, they inform a critically vital story of the golden age of electronics, devices, copywriting, and gross sales.

They should be preserved.

And I’m the man to do it.

However, grasp on — I’m getting forward of myself.

As a child, I didn’t actually learn sci-fi novels, I’ve by no means learn a single phrase of J.R.R. Tolkien, and I largely used the encyclopedia to search for humorous phrases.

What I did learn as a child, again and again, have been sport/laptop magazines… and the DAK Catalog.

(I do know this says loads about me. We don’t want to debate it any additional.)

Now, I’ve written about this particular catalog back in 2012, however again then I solely scratched the floor.

To elucidate DAK, let’s each have a look at the Summer time ’83 problem.

The quilt’s hero picture attracts you in. What’s that beautiful-looking tape deck? (And wow, even right this moment, that factor is fairly superior.)

When you open it up, you’re greeted with a daisywheel printed just-for-you welcome message from a man named Drew Alan Kaplan. That’s proper, the D.A.Ok. himself.

Okay, you’re beginning to get it now.

Right here’s a catalog, from a man who chooses cool devices, and writes about them in nice element, each phrase his personal. Sounds enjoyable.

After which, you dig in.

You see futuristic watches and wild telephones…

…a cool Atari 2600 cartridge-switching dingus…

…a hilariously unhappy/depressed battery charger, and extra.

You may fantasize about proudly owning considered one of this stuff. You may dream about how your life will change with it in your house. And also you’ll be blown away by the worth.

However actually, it’s all due to the copy.

I guess you’ve by no means learn something fairly prefer it. First, a wierd, catchy, probably-confusing headline will get you in. Then, a single merchandise is given a complete web page of consideration.

And most of all, the gadget is described and bought virtually as if a good friend is telling you all about it.

The images. The copy. The devices. The pitch. There was a lot to absorb. That’s the DAK Catalog.

I keep in mind so many little emotions. I used to fantasize about carrying this bizarre laptop round and in my non-existent child briefcase, and changing these little ROMs.

And I wished this SK-1 keyboard so dangerous, I truly obtained it for Christmas one yr! However from Santa, not DAK.

There’s a number of tech curiosities in right here, too. For instance, what on earth is that this computer-less 3M plotter!?

And I’ve by no means seen this rad Canon all-in-one! It got here with an exterior printer… and likewise an inner printer?!

Mainly, this catalog was, and nonetheless is, my escape.

Drew would all the time discover distinctive methods to pitch. For years, and I imply literal years, he was harassing a radar detector firm, goading them right into a wager to show that his cheaper radar detector was simply nearly as good as theirs:

As a child, I used to be riveted by this problem.

Seven years later, the problem got here to an finish.

The conclusion was hidden within the web page break:

“No, [DAK’s] Maxon didn’t win. No, we aren’t higher than Passport and Escort. However, we didn’t lose both!”

Perfection! The DAK detector, you see, was given a “Finest Worth” award by their tester — that’s hardly a loss!

(Regardless of the not-loss loss, the subsequent problem had an enormous, complete write-up of all of their radar-detector testing outcomes, in excellent Drew-honesty type.)

Drew was additionally susceptible to pitching “errors”.

The final concept was that somebody, someplace, forgot a button or put in a improper half, and due to their goof, you’re about to get the finest deal of your life.

Frankly, I beloved all of it.

A couple of years again, a couple of very, very early DAK catalogs (and different early audio catalogs) confirmed up on eBay and, boy, you guess I grabbed them fast.

Collectively, they inform the (unseen-by-me) story of early DAK.

In 1972, DAK was only one factor: tapes.

Drew truly obtained his begin by shopping for tremendous high-quality, however used, reel-to-reel tapes from recording studios for $1. He’d erase them, and promote them to his school classmates for $2. Finally the studios ran out of tapes to promote him, and he paired up with producers.

In 1972, he was nonetheless promoting tapes…

…however look, now we’ve got the primary look of the long-lasting DAK Gill Sans Extremely Daring headline font!

Then, in 1981, a brand new format appeared referred to as Sound Concepts. This was an attention-grabbing hybrid of tapes… and devices! That is the lacking hyperlink, a kind-of prototype DAK Catalog.

“This catalog takes you on a journey by means of the by no means by no means land of recent digital know-how. We predict you’ll discover extra thrilling and progressive new merchandise assembled inside the 52 pages of this catalog than in another catalog or retailer on the planet.”

Lastly, one yr later, in 1982, the primary (?) DAK Catalog launched, and the remainder is historical past.

In accordance with the Los Angeles Times in 1988, “Kaplan claims 2 million lively clients, and Arnold Fishman, who runs Advertising Logistics, a direct-marketing providers agency close to Chicago, pegs DAK’s gross sales at $120 million final yr and rising 20% a yr. […] His mates estimate that Kaplan mails out greater than 10 million catalogs.”

However as I started to gather these DAK Catalogs, one other catalog confirmed up in my search, and my entire world view was thrown into chaos.

I realized a few man named Joseph Sugarman.

Joe was a copywriter. A pitchman. A one-man gross sales drive. An unstoppable entrepreneur.

Within the early-to-mid 70’s, Joe wrote and ran gadget print adverts that he ran in Scientific American, like like this:

Finally, Joe determined to place his adverts collectively right into a print catalog. At first, he referred to as it “Our Area-age Product Catalog”

And to be trustworthy, all of it felt.. so acquainted.

The headline. The part headers. The snappy copy. The virtually-too-honest pitch. The closing worth. You see it, proper?

It was all there, seemingly lengthy earlier than DAK.

Then, in 1977, Joe upped his catalog sport, and launched a model new catalog: Merchandise That Suppose.

Right here’s how he launched it to the world.

“Within the subsequent twelve months extra microelectronic merchandise will likely be launched to the patron than in another section of the micro-electronic revolution. How do you discover out about these merchandise? […] JS&A will produce its first main catalog itemizing the latest shopper micro-electronic merchandise that we really feel signify the most effective contributions to micro-electronic know-how.”

The Merchandise That Suppose catalog was actually particular.

The devices have been distinctive, like this LED VFD show ($395!)

And generally there have been extra images than copy.

Joe’s writing may be somewhat bit zippier than Drew’s. And he could possibly be very, very humorous.

“About the one redeeming characteristic of this product is that we don’t have enormous portions to promote. The importer is afraid to order too many for worry that no one of their proper thoughts would purchase it, not to mention promote it, so we solely have a couple of hundred to supply as a part of this take a look at program.”

And it was lovely. He would usually use entire pages for full-bleed, unbelievable images.

Simply chill out, scroll slowly, and soak these beauties in.

Studying these catalogs have been a revelation for me.

And I’ll be trustworthy with you: I used to be rattled.

You see, I had all the time assumed that Drew Alan Kaplan invented this style. However now I questioned if DAK was impressed, a remix, and possibly Joe blazed this path?

Now rapidly obsessed, I picked up copies of three books Joe had written about copywriting: “Promoting Secrets and techniques of the Written Phrase”, “Advertising Secrets and techniques of a Mail Order Maverick” and “Tv Secrets and techniques for Advertising Success”.

I inhaled these books. Though ocassionally dated, they contained a wealth of knowledge, and served as a terrific breakdown for a mode of copywriting I had solely ever absorbed by means of studying the catalogs.

(Though his books are out-of-print, they appear to be out there for Kindle! And a condensed model, “The Adweek Copywriting Handbook”, is out there on Apple Books.)

Right here’s some Joseph Sugarman trivia I realized:

  • He claims to be the primary individual to ever settle for bank cards over the telephone, inventing a wholly new kind of gross sales. No person else was loopy sufficient to shoulder the danger: with bank card processing executed through the mail, it’d be months after transport an merchandise earlier than he knew if the cost truly went by means of.
  • Years later, Joseph created a product referred to as BluBlocker®, which grew to become a absolute smash hit that’s still available today. He bought BluBlocker® by creating what he says was the world’s first ever late-night informercial. (I can nonetheless carry out the rap by coronary heart.) More.
  • Joe additionally as soon as marketed a failed product referred to as the Bone-Fone® and if you happen to ever go to the Panic workplace, ask to strive the Bone-Fone®. I’ll say no extra right now.

So, did DAK encourage Merchandise That Suppose? And earlier than that, did the JS&A adverts encourage DAK? Or have been each coincidentally born from the identical pastel-colored 80’s miasma?

The reply was ready in plain sight: an amazing interview Drew did with government coach Jay Abraham again in 1998, proper after the top of DAK. (Transcript.)

Drew: What occurred [with DAK] was that an occasion modified my life.

Jay: What was the occasion?

Drew: The occasion was quite simple. It was a person. Identify’s Joe Sugarman.

Jay: I do know Joe.

Drew: Most likely the best copywriter, actually the best promoter. And a terrific gentleman, actual good good friend of mine. I went to considered one of his seminars.

Jay: What did you get out of that seminar? You attended, what, 4 instances?

Drew: I attended the seminar 4 instances. I should be a gradual learner. The primary time was thrilling; the second time was actually nice. However life’s expertise helps loads, as a result of the primary time, I hadn’t written that type of promoting. The second time I had. By the third and fourth instances, I used to be busy writing tons of of adverts, and every time, my enthusiasm can be raised to such fever ranges. I got here residence ecstatic – prepared to write down.

I need you to know that Joe Sugarman’s seminars modified my life. And he modified the lifetime of numerous different individuals who attended his seminar. And I realized loads. It was the seminal distinction between regular writing… and what he unleashed with me was the flexibility to write down adverts like “Illegitimate Little one for a Headset.” The “Can You Be Bribed?” advert, I wrote after that seminar.

And there you might have it.

Drew didn’t invent this type, Joe did. However Drew took it, ran with it, and gave full credit score for it.

The scholar grew to become the grasp. And the grasp continued to be the grasp. And all of us received. Or, a minimum of, I did.

I’ve so many different questions, but it surely’s unlikely I’ll ever study extra.

Drew Alan Kaplan is… reclusive. The Los Angeles Occasions confirms this way back to 1988:

See Also

Associates describe him as a loner who spends a lot of his time holed up in his $700,000, gadget-filled hillside residence in Tarzana making ready his 5 – 6 catalogues a yr.

“When he’s producing a list, you possibly can’t speak to him,” stated considered one of his suppliers. “It might probably take 10 minutes to 10 months to get him on the telephone.”

Kaplan, 41, hardly ever talks to the press and refuses to be photographed. “I’m not a publicity hound,” he stated in a phone interview, declining to be interviewed face-to-face. “No. Then you definitely’d take an image of me.”

I’ve nonetheless by no means discovered a single photograph of him, even right here in 2023. And I’ve by no means gotten an e mail reply from him both, apart from a well mannered declination from a customer support rep. I dream of speaking to him sometime.

And Joseph Sugarman, though way more of a public determine and public speaker than Drew, didn’t reply to my occasional (most likely too-eager) emails through the years both. After which, out of the blue, fairly sadly, I realized it was too late: Joseph passed away in March of 2022. You made an actual influence on my life, Joe, with out even realizing it.

Earlier than anybody asks, yeah advantageous I suppose The Sharper Picture was additionally doing these items within the early 80’s, however with out the unbelievable copywriting verve. It’s simply not the identical!

However, as an added bonus, I’m throwing in 4 classic The Sharper Picture catalogs into this put up, at no additional value.

Click on any cowl to learn or obtain the complete problem.

Because the neon 80’s was the web 90’s, DAK appeared to lose its footing.

Computer systems and IBM PC clones dominated our gadget imaginations. DAK rode the CD-ROM wave and rightfully bought its significance, however later catalogs quickly grew to become stuffed with music collections and software program bundles.

And shortly, it grew to become clear there was hassle. In true DAK total-honesty kind, it was entrance web page information.

Working DAK is type of like operating an outdated household farm. First you borrow cash from the financial institution to purchase seeds. Then you definitely work the land, and lift the crops.

Lastly, you promote the crops, pay the deliver you extra thrilling new merchandise one that retains his troubles to him-bank again and handle your loved ones.

Nicely at DAK, I borrow cash to snap up bargains for you DAKonians. I write up every kind of recent merchandise for the these particular individuals who’ve reached out the adverts, print the catalog and, then, you subsequent couple of catalogs.

Lastly, I repay the financial institution, DAK grows annually and I handle my household. It’s all the time labored nice. Till now.

To listen to Drew inform it, the problem was monetary.

A weakening yen triggered his sole Japanese lender, Tokai Financial institution, to drag their $18M line of credit score in August 1992, and there was nowhere else to go. “I had by no means been capable of finding an American financial institution that enjoyed the excessive quantity/low margin enterprise I had constructed”, Drew wrote on his web site.

Worse, the financial institution owned the DAK trademark as collateral! So he couldn’t even be DAK anymore.

The Late Summer time ’92 catalog letter continued:

This letter was actually embarrassing for me to write down. I’ve all the time been a non-public one that retains his troubles to him-

self. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to face this one alone. And, I’d prefer to thank these particular individuals who’ve reached out in friendship.

Thanks, thanks. You DAK suppliers have been simply great. I couldn’t ask for a greater group of mates.

In 1992, DAK filed for chapter.

In 1994, it was gone.

It’s a truth. These catalogs should reside ceaselessly. I perceive that I is perhaps considered one of eight folks on this planet who care. However they signify a misplaced artwork, with emphasis on the artwork.

And that’s why I’ve scanned each catalog I’ve.

Due to the assistance of my good friend Kay Savetz, I now current to you over 55 (!) fully-scanned, 600 DPI DAK catalogs, saved safely on the Web Archive so that you can take pleasure in.

Better of all, there’s no cost for these downloads.

Plus, as a particular added bonus, I’ve additionally included 9 very-rare Merchandise That Suppose / JS&A catalogs, by no means earlier than out there on the web.

Additionally offered completely freed from cost.

I really hope you take pleasure in them.

(sure, i proceed to lose some huge cash on this weblog. additionally due to my good friend jason scott for serving to to arrange all the pieces on the web archive.)

Click on any cowl to learn or obtain the complete problem.

Click on any cowl to learn or obtain the complete problem.

It’s humorous. Generally, issues that appear so inconsequential and trivial after we’re rising up wind up shaping who we’re in surprising methods. Are you able to draw a straight line from the catalogs of my youth to my curiosity in making and promoting issues (like Playdate) right this moment? I’d take that guess.

A good friend of mine as soon as remarked that the DAK catalogs, not directly, reminded them of TikTok movies, the place folks speak at size about merchandise they love and why they love them. It’s simply not written down and mailed to your own home.

The gadget catalog could also be no extra, however our need to share extremely cool issues with one another won’t ever die.

Thanks for taking the time to learn this very lengthy put up, and thanks for letting me share one thing I like.


PS: Right here’s a bonus DAK bread recipe e-book for you. In the event you make any of this bread please inform me.

PPS: In the event you’re one of many eight individuals who loved this put up, please inform your mates. We should discover all of us

PPPS: Would you like considered one of these catalogs? You’re in luck!! I’ve put my extras on eBay. Now YOU can OWN one of these catalogs for as little as JUST $5 — by clicking here!

There’s nothing fairly as stress-free and galvanizing as flipping by means of these masterpieces, and this can be a uncommon probability. Act fast and personal a bit of gadget-catalog historical past.

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