What Was Restoration Hardware Thinking Putting Out a 992-Page Catalog?

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Restoration Hardware

Last fall, some questioned the wisdom of Restoration Hardware’s printing and distributing what was then it’s largest-ever “Source Book”—a 616-page glossy, beautifully photographed and designed catalog loaded to the brim with ideas and products for the home. The book was criticized as wasteful, bad for the environment, and, in the age of digital everything, pretty much unnecessary. Has the upscale retailer learned its lesson? Well, as a followup, this year’s fall catalog is more than 300 pages longer than its predecessor.

People didn’t quite know what to make of Restoration Hardware’s catalog when it arrived in mailboxes in 2011—all 3+ pounds and 616 pages of it. Some declared it “wasteful,” though for the recipient it could function as quite a handsome (and free) coffee table book. Others pointed out criticisms that the Source Book was “not ‘green’ and is a bit ego-centric.”

Even Restoration Hardware executives didn’t seem sure of what the enormous book really was. “It’s our largest ever Source Book/Magalog/Catalog,” wrote Chairman and Co-CEO Gary Friedman in the tome’s opening letter. “At 616 pages we’re not quite sure what to call it.”

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So what should we call this year’s Source Book, which at 992 pages and 5.5 pounds total in three companion pieces makes the 2011 edition seem skimpy?

Restoration Hardware executives are describing it “a first-of-its-kind hybrid of catalog, magazine and inspiration file,” according to San Francisco Chronicle. Retail analysts say that, even though it probably costs around $3 to package and ship each catalog—and that doesn’t factor in how much RH paid for design, photography, editorial, models, and printing what’s inside—the hefty production is bold, memorable, and perhaps even effective in generating business:

The hope, say industry insiders, is that the breadth of the catalog will keep consumers from chucking it into the trash after a quick flip through, and it will instead become a lifestyle guide kept on hand for months.

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The fact that customers are supposed to hang onto the catalog, that RH uses recycled paper, that the retailer only sends out mailings twice a year, and that the Source Book is available as a downloadable app (warning: download times “can exceed 30 minutes because of large file sizes”) is supposed to bolster the argument that Restoration Hardware does, in fact, care about the environment. Not everyone’s buying that argument, though. As the Chronicle story notes:

Snarky remarks and complaints have been flying across social-networking sites, and bloggers have berated the retailer for being environmentally unfriendly, poking particular fun at the card-stock insert titled, “Green is the new black,” in which the company touts its ecological commitment and encourages recipients to recycle the catalog.

Here, a selection of comments at Twitter:

Memo to Restoration Hardware: You might save more trees and gain more customers by not sending such a huge catalog.

Really restoration hardware? U send a 5 lb BOOK to anyone who ever bought some drawer pulls from you? #ugh

Ah yes… It’s the time of year when Restoration Hardware breaks my mailbox and wastes one million trees. Stupid catalog.

Accidentally dropped the new Restoration Hardware catalog, knocking the earth off of its axis so winter is going to be longer this year 🙁

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One organization tells the Chronicle that it’s “thrilled” with Restoration Hardware’s catalogs, though. That organization would be the United States Postal Service, which has been losing billions of dollars annually, and which has been pushing for more junk mail as a means to decrease its losses. It’s unclear how individual postal carriers feel about hoisting 5.5-lb. catalogs day in, day out, but we suppose it’s better than being out of a job.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.