IF YOU'RE wondering what Americans are up to these days, take a glance at a big fat book called "Newsletters in Print." Right away you'll see we're into computers and Elvis memorabilia, of course, but that's just the beginning. We're also into hatpins, noise abatement, Eudora Welty and oil rigs. And saukerkraut and Sjogren's syndrome, and Ford Skyliner retractable hard tops made between 1957 and 1959. But, most of all, what we're into is . . . newsletters.
We seem to feel the need to write about our passions. Once a month. Quarterly, at least.So there is Points, the monthly newsletter for the International Club for Collectors of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders. And there is Sauerkraut News, the quarterly newsletter of the National Kraut Packers Association. And the China-Burma-India Hump Pilots Association Newsletter, put out quarterly by an organization whose headquarters is in Poplar Bluffs, Mo.
If sometimes it seems that America may in fact be getting buried in an avalanche of newsletters, that's because there are, according to "Newsletters in Print," 10,300 of them published in the United States. And that, says Suzanne Dean, is "just the tip of the iceberg."
Dean, who teaches a workshop about newsletters for the University of Utah's Division of Continuing Education, points out that the 10,300 figure covers only national and regional newsletters. It doesn't take into account the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of elementary school newsletters, local arts newsletters, local business newsletters, employee newsletters, department newsletters, and on and on.
There is even a newsletter on selling shopping center mortgages, notes Dean, who gets so many newsletters herself that she has a hard time reading them all. The number of newsletters that come out of the University of Utah's various departments and committees, she says, now numbers about 100.
"There's a huge trend in people trying to reach people," Dean concludes.
There have always been newsletters, she says. But the trend for "a large share of businesses and non-profit organizations and even smaller components within these organizations to put out newsletters has taken off in the last five years."
Desktop publishing has something to do with it. Suddenly just about any company and PTA has a way to bring the rudiments of graphic design and printing to news about bowling scores and bake sales.
And then, too, this is the Information Age, accompanied of course by the Information Explosion. So organizations and businesses need a way to "narrowcast" what they want known to the subset of people they want to know it.
And since those people are so busy (with work and collecting hatpins and flying off to Burma) that they have time to read only little bits of information, the "quick-read" newsletter is just the ticket.
Some newsletters are meant to build up employee morale, with news about company softball teams, retirements and "people on the move." Some newsletters are meant to impress clients and future clients, or to thank donors and recruit future donors.
Some newsletters, with names like Spice 'Xpress (published by the McCormick/
Schilling Co.), seem like little more than advertisements with headlines. Others, like Cleanliness Facts: Tips and Trends From the Soap and Detergent Association, are more useful than blatantly commercial.
The Newsletter Explosion has even spawned an industry of its own. There are companies that sell newsletters by subscription, on topics ranging from finance to nutrition. And there are companies that put together newsletters for other companies.
While most companies and organizations write their newsletters "in house," some hire newsletter publishers to do the job. Publications Management, a Salt Lake graphic arts and printing company, designs and sometimes even writes newsletters for about 75 local businesses and non-profit organizations, including one for Smith's Foods that has a circulation of about 15,000.
And another Salt Lake company, Anderson Marketing, has found a niche writing filler items that can be syndicated to newsletters all over the country.
Certainly there seems to be no shortage of potential customers. There are so many newsletters these days, in fact, that there is now even a newsletter called The Newsletter of Newsletters.- Suzanne Dean will teach a University of Utah Continuing Education workshop, "Newsletters: Volkswagen to Cadillac," Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16, at the university's Cedar Park Extension, just east of I-15 at the 5300 South exit. The workshop will cover newsletter basics - size, format, layout, design and content.
Most clever name for a quarterly newsletter from a music organization: Quarter Notes (newsletter of the Utah Symphony).
Most intriguing name of a newsletter (tie): The Moisture Seekers Newsletter (published by the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation for a disorder marked by dryness of all mucous membranes); and Stove Parts Needed (published by the Antique Stove Association).
Most fitting newsletter: Vincent of Beauvais Newsletter (published by the history department of Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.). Vincent of Beauvais was present at the first light of the dawning of the Information Age, seven centuries ago. In 1244, the Dominican friar compiled what some regard as the first encyclopedia.
Potentially most boring newsletter: Offshore Rig Location Report, published by Offshore Data Services of Houston. It details the location of 800 mobile rigs and 400 platform rigs.