HarperCollins made a splash last week when it announced it is launching an online sales catalogue. CEO Jane Friedman touted the benefits—reduced postage and printing costs, less paper waste, the ability to easily update information—but at least for now, many booksellers are wedded to print catalogues and not ready to place orders based on an e-catalogue’s pitch. HC hopes to roll out its online catalogue for summer 2009 titles and will distribute a limited number of print copies. While HC’s plans for online catalogues are the most ambitious by a publisher to date, other houses of varying sizes are also experimenting with online and e-catalogues.

Hachette Book Group USA is piloting an online catalogue, and hopes to have it live before the end of the year, said v-p, communications director Sophie Cottrell. Simon & Schuster’s Adam Rothberg said the company has discussed e-catalogues and does make its catalogues available online, but hasn’t “moved to e-only status yet.” At Random House, Stuart Applebaum said e-catalogues are the company’s next “company-wide eco-priority,” but no timetable has been set.

Many midsize houses send e-catalogues to the media. PublicAffairs is one; director of publicity Whitney Peeling said the house started in 2005 and that the response from the media has been “strong and positive.” But PublicAffairs’s sales department still uses paper. Marketing director Lisa Kaufman said that when a rep visits an account, “They’re not sitting at two terminals; they’re having a conversation with a catalogue between them.”

Kaufman also pointed out that e-catalogues come in different formats. PublicAffairs’ PDF file is “a more primitive kind of e-catalogue than what [HarperCollins is] doing.” Harper’s online catalogue uses CMS technology to present a dynamic application linked to all of the company’s data systems so that book covers, prices, on-sale dates, reviews, quotes and media alerts can be updated in real time.

PowerHouse, the University of Georgia Press and Chelsea Green are other independent houses that make their catalogues available as PDFs (Georgia reported that making PDF catalogues has saved the house from printing about 600 catalogues). Candlewick Press has found an audience for e-catalogues among teachers and librarians. Charlie Schroder, v-p of marketing and development, said the house has developed an online catalogue that contains additional materials such as downloadable activity sheets and teaching guides. Schroder called e-catalogues a “no-brainer, particularly when you’ve got teachers with technology installed in their schools. You’re providing info in a way that’s more easily accessible.”

But booksellers aren’t convinced. Sheryl Cotleur, buying director at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., said there’s too much collaboration among buyers at her store for e-catalogues to work. “I make notes of who needs to look at what, and then they comment on things and it comes back to me.” Cotleur also said she often takes catalogues home. “I sit on the couch with the cat and write right on the pages. I just don’t see how that could work [in an electronic format].”

Applebaum acknowledged that print catalogues remain the central tool in selling books to accounts. “There is a strong traditionalist base that initially may resist this radical change,” he said. But he was upbeat: “In time, we may look back on the paper catalogue as a cherished memento of a publishing era gone by.”