the future of calendars

7 04 2011

“I’m not used to paying for calendars like you do here in Australia”.

Past

In one simple innocent statement, my partner highlighted the outstanding success of applying “pop-up retailing” to calendars, first brought to Australia in the mid-90s by XXXX XXXXX, licensing the USA-based ‘XXXXXXXX XXXX’ brand and seasonal pop-up retailing concept.

Back then, and apparently still in many countries, wall and desk calendars were either low-value things that businesses gave away to their customers, a cunning exchange of vaguely themed utility for under-the-radar advertising; or “high end” products in niche retail outlets.

Nowadays, calendar retailing is worth several tens of $M (in Australia), forged in large part by XXXX XXXXX’s tireless efforts to convince shopping mall managers to allocate open floor space for short term rental where – voila! – overnight in October/November a ‘kiosk’ appears at your local mall lined with every type of calendar you could possibly want.  They made easy gifts, Christmas ‘stocking fillers’ for those whom you just CBF’d buying anything more meaningful.  I’ve received a few over the years!

The trick to getting people to part with up to $25 per calendar, where previously they were free from your local mechanic / dentist / etc – is personalisation and self-expression.  The burgeoning range of wall and desk calendars catered to almost every social niche, from every breed of faithful dog and fluffy cat, to side-splittingly funny Gary Larson cartoons.  A calendar hung in the home or office signalled to others what you were ‘into’, and provoked conversation.  Oh, and you could also record what you had to do next week – if you remembered to look at it.

Present

However I believe that gravy train is slowly running out of steam.  I have no insider knowledge of sales or returns, but my hunch is they’ve been either plateaued or been slightly falling for a few years, a drop that’s either been masked by XXXXXXXX XXXX’s progress toward market saturation (geographically, the number of stores open each Christmas retail season), or unfairly attributed to the 2008 GFC & low consumer confidence statistics.  Or both.  I believe there’s another – perhaps bigger – culprit.

We’re nearly 4 years into the smartphone boom, heralded by the Apple iPhone first available in June 2007.  Until then Palm Pilot, Windows Mobile & Blackberry PDAs & smartphones were the sole preserve of geeks &/or geeky businessmen.  Among countless other things, a smartphone gives you a calendar that typically syncs with your desktop/laptop computer(s) including your corporate email/calendar/contacts system, and actively reminds you of imminent appointments.  Add the outstanding success of the iPad a year ago, followed by viable competition to the iPhone (Google’s Android, Palm/HP’s WebOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7) and “suddenly” a whole lot of people have a lot less reason to record their plans on a traditional calendar trapped on a desk or nailed to a wall, especially those intended for the office or home-office.

This ubiquity of high-tech calendars has only just begun, and I believe signals the beginning of the end for physical paper calendars.

Future

Sourcing calendars from publishers all over the world, XXXXXXXX XXXX is justified in having the tagline “The Best Selection Of Calendars In The Known Universe”.  But as the retail end-point for many calendar publishers and image banks, XXXXXXXX XXXX’s ability to capitalise on that imagery needs to move with the times – into the digital space.

XXXXXXXX XXXX needs to tackle the smartphone, pad / tablet / slate, & computer calendar reality head on.

Other than the same disease that’s beset most old-media for the past decade, there’s nothing preventing XXXXXXXX XXXX from creating their own software calendar ‘apps’, featuring the same imagery from their paper counterparts.  As a major multi-national paper calendar retailer, they already have the relationships with the calendar publishers & image banks necessary to garner trust to take this step into the digital domain.  It isn’t just XXXXXXXX XXXX who stands to rise or fall on this issue, it’s the entire ecosystem of paper calendar publishing.

Imagine a smartphone app that features all the crowd-pleasing imagery that modern paper calendars are known for, seamlessly integrating into the phone’s built-in calendar system (that syncs with your desktop/laptop computer or office groupware system).

People want to customise their smartphones for exactly the same reason they were willing to blow $25 on a dozen sheets of paper with cool pictures – especially given the ubiquity of Apple’s one-size-fits-all iPhone & iPad where there’s zero ability to ‘theme’ the built-in calendar app.  Part of the appeal of ‘jailbreaking’ an iPhone/iPad is the ability to customise the UI, and – for better or worse – Android and other smartphones offer that ability to customise.

If XXXXXXXX XXXX doesn’t take the lead and bring great themed imagery into digital calendars, someone else surely will.








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