Some of the most widely circulated books on the planet are religious texts, young adult fiction, and a Swedish furniture catalogue.
With 203 million copies distributed to design lovers around the globe, IKEA’s yearly catalogue sits beside the Bible, the Quran, and the “Harry Potter” series as one of the most popular books in the world.
The main reason IKEA is able to distribute so many copies is that the company knows its customer.
Specifically, IKEA conducts research in each of the 72 regions where the book is distributed. As Quartz reports, the company collects information on housing sizes, cultural attitudes, and personal habits to figure out which items and designs are likely to sell best in which locations.
In the 2017 catalogue, for instance, Chinese kitchens appeared much smaller than US kitchens, reflecting China’s ongoing battle with affordable housing.
Sometimes the personalisation has caused controversy for IKEA.
In the 2012 catalogue, men and women appeared in roughly an equal number of cases in US and UK issues. But in Saudi Arabia and ultra-Orthodox regions of Israel, IKEA edited its photos so they only featured men, or nobody at all.
In that way, the popularity of IKEA’s catalogue reflects the company’s focus on international sales, for better or worse. Critics of the retouching alleged IKEA was betraying its core values of inclusiveness by catering to regressive gender ideals.
As a marketing tactic, however, IKEA knows it is maximizing its already broad appeal. Well-designed furniture, sold at a reasonable price, will be a hit with hundreds of millions around the world; the only variable is whether the message surrounding the products will resonate.
The wide readership of its 374-page book, due out in print July 31 and online August 7, is just the most obvious sign it does.