John Minck remembers the central role the General Catalog
played in the customer's image of HP:
"Almost from the beginning of the fledgling company, the T&M catalog was perhaps the primary marketing tool. It first looked like a thin brochure, yet the main attributes were there, pictures, full specifications, and PRICE. One of HP's earliest principles was to provide enough information such that a customer could define and specify and ORDER directly from the catalog.
In the important years of high tech of the 60s and 70s, the HP catalog grew to 800+ pages, and 1 inch thick. Hard bound, it was a prized possession of every engineer and scientist, and was stored there immediately available on the bookcase shelf. Being the most visible marketing tool, HP budgeted considerable sums for printing and distribution. Print runs during the highest years were in the 350,000+ copy range. The overall budget, including later language translations, ran well over $4 million USD. But it was well worth it, considering the prominent position it held for customers as their "Measurement Compendium."
Considering that up to 30 different manufacturing divisions participated in providing product and applications data, the internal organization needed to bring that huge volume of technical information together, and still have all data be current, was an enormous undertaking. Naturally, the project management required was built up over the decades, so it became a very smooth running process. Only one or two printing companies in the United States had the capacity to print the books in a timely manner. One estimate made was that it required 7 railroad cars to carry the production to delivery around the globe. Fast transit ships were used to move the pallets to international customers, just as speedily as for US customers.
Special (and expensive) white-white paper was used to allow for very thin sheets to minimize weight, yet which was highly opaque so that the ink didn't "print through" the other side. It featured tutorial pages as well as selection guides of comparison tables. Waveguide charts and other fundamental data were often included, depending on the desires (and budgets) of the supplying divisions.
Occasionally consideration was given to cutting back the annual printing and budget to every other year. The plan was to cover the new products for the intervening year with a smaller "brochure" piece. But every time the top HP marketing executives decided that it was far too important to customers to cut back on their expectations.
In this Internet era, dramatic improvements in availability of current technical information has made the hard copy catalogs far less important."