ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

A DAK Catalog Showdown? —

To commemorate (or at least reference) the subject I’m talking about (the DAK Catalog), I’m going to write in the style of the catalog itself.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME

I often get shipments of old magazines, catalogs, flyers and the like from people giving up collections they no longer want to care for but don’t want to just throw out. They come in old boxes, worn with the dust of basements and attics and often bearing striking themes: Commodore computing, hobbyist electronics, a predisiposition for Nintendo. But the latest huge box to arrive had a very old memory show up in it.

This was none other than a Summer 1988 DAK Catalog, in worn condition but still a complete collection of everything that made DAK such a strong memory for me. A catalog, you say? A catalog that caused a strong memory? What kind of catalog could that possibly be?

PLASTIC DREAMS AND PROMISES

The DAK catalog, created by Drew A. Kaplan (the DAK the company got the name from) was in the business of selling consumer electronic items, which are the companion pieces to the computer history I often focus on; when your item must shave a face or duplicate an audio cassette, the approach, style and presentation are slightly different, more simplistic, but a lot of the same urges and ideas are there. Students trying to understand Home Computers of the 1970s and 1980s would do well to look at how items were being sold back then.

A CROWDED FIELD

Make no mistake, the DAK catalog wasn’t the only game in town – I made it a point of carefully scanning in the 1983 Shelburne Holiday Catalog for the use of later academics and gawkers, all intent on trying to understand our past generations fascination with what appears to be, to the modern eye, crap. But these other catalogs paled in comparison to the DAK catalog in one way: hard core selling technique.

THUNDERSTRUCK

It will always be the DAK catalog that introduced me to the “Sub-woofer”, a speaker intended to blow bass waves directly into the floor. Allow me to have you admire, anew, the wonder of the advertisement for the 15″ Subwoofer:

The language is exquisite, and the presentation is superb. I’ve been told that Kaplan is using techniques from various correspondence courses on selling, and that his performance as a student of these courses is not up to snuff, but I defy someone reading this not to see where it would gain the interest of the next-newest-thing-seeking technophile.

“Oh, just wait ’til you experience the breathtaking sonic splendor of an orchestral chord or a pipe organ that’s unleashed by this subwoofer.”

UNLEASHING THE COMPUTER FLOODGATES

I did have a few of these advertisements, mostly appearing in electronics or science magazines, and an occasional mailing. One of them, called Astounding Writing, is in the digitize.textfiles.com collection.  But it definitely brightens my day to have a complete, whole catalog from 20 years ago to eventually scan in completely.

Before I put it on the to-do pile, I simply couldn’t resist adding these two pages to the mix: a 1200 baud modem, promoted as a gateway to  untold amounts of information and amazing opportunities. And for only $69! Prices slashed!

What I like about these are that he has to ramp up people into the world of bulletin board systems, the way they work, and why you want this ugly little thing. I think he does a very good job of it. While the stuff he sold was of variant quality in some cases, DAK was generally pretty upfront about what you were getting. As a result, he warns you that you’ll have to pay for some services online, and that what you’re getting are discard modems sold from discontinued properties (although they’re made in the same factory as continued quantities).

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE

Just kidding. That’s it.


Categorised as: computer history | jason his own self

Comments are disabled on this post


10 Comments

  1. relaxing says:

    I definitely spent many hours with these catalogs as a youth in the early 90′s. Now I’m wondering how much of his writing style permeated my adolescent brain. He really did have a knack for explaining why each product was not only superior to his competitors’, but also the critical answer for your personal needs.

    If you took his word, and bought every product in the catalog, what would your home look like?

  2. Man, there’s a catalog that I’d completely forgotten about yet, when I saw it, memories came flooding back from somewhere in my limbic system. DAK Catalogs and Computer Shoppers — the siren song of consumer culture from my childhood.

  3. Shannon Harris says:

    If I’m remembering those correctly – they were always ‘Famous Brand’ products, that never ever mentioned the actual brand. I always read them as soon as they hit my mailbox.

  4. l.m.orchard says:

    Oh dear god did I love the DAK catalog – it had all the stuff in it I would buy someday when I grew up.

    Eventually, I did buy a Zeos Pocket PC from DAK with high school graduation money and rocked the 2-AA battery, MS Works, sunlight viewable outdoor term paper writing machine through most of college

  5. phoenix says:

    My dad got these catalogs. I remember when they started selling cd-roms and cd-rom drives – a page with this guy being blown away by this giant-ass stack of books all fitting onto ONE disc!

  6. Stephen B says:

    I used to read those DAK catalogs over and over when I was younger. I think he used to refer to his readers as Dakonians or something like that. COMB catalog was another one that I used to look forward to receiving.

  7. Jim Jacob says:

    I actually purchased that modem when it first showed up in the catalog. It was a big deal here in the Los Angeles area. People would make the run up to the San Fernando valley just pick one up in person and check out the small store.

  8. Fake Rake says:

    Awesome. I also used to read the DAK catalogs cover-to-cover, over and over as a kid in the late 80′s. Getting a new DAK catalog in the mail was always exciting. I’m pretty sure I kept them for a while, since they were so full of awesome stuff, but I don’t know where they’ve gone. There’s probably a decent chance they’re still at my parents’ house somewhere. If I find them, I’ll scan or send them in.

    The only item I remember from the catalog was a dbx noise reduction box that kept showing up. Oh, the magical dreams of hiss-less cassettes…

  9. Nate says:

    Thanks for the memories. DAK was a fun catalog. I would use it as a jumping off point to imagine what gadgets would be possible in only a few years. That and the phonebook-sized Computer Shopper were the stuff of dreams.

    Whitebox PC vendors, Cyrix and other x86 CPU clones, and VGA *made* Gates. Without them, he would never have been so successful.

  10. potrzebie says:

    Oh man, I haven’t thought about DAK for years. Somehow, my family got on their mailing list about 1985 or so and eventually, when time came for my dad to cave into requests form me (helped in part by mom) to get a computer, it was from the DAK catalog. A full spread, pc-compatible luggable portable thing (a cover over the keyboard where an optional LCD display went) with yellow monocrome monitor (I believe the catalog write-up touted amber monocrome as vastly superior to green), 256 k, two (2) 5″ floppy drives, and a daisy wheel printer. DOS 2.11 and custom DAK Screen editor software included.

    Always a pain. Oh, it did play some of the games you could get form Waldenbooks or B. Dalton (those 4-to-a-disk shareware sets they sold in a rack in the mid-80s) but real games, those I wanted an Apple II or a Commodore for, never worked, for odd reasons (usually display problems). And I had no idea that I had access to BASIC if I just put in the second DOS disk and typed “BASICA” (or was it “GWBASIC”? I get old DOS stuff mixed up, jumbled memories of MS and PC and DR peculiarities).

    Despite the dog computer we got form DAK, I still read that damned catalog, and eventually made a couple purchses through them. My pll-tuning, digital, AM/FM/shortwave DAK-branded radio still works, though it’s hopelessly clunky, and has a shorting-out volume slider.