Passing of a giant. . . catalog

I am late to the party on this, but I just discovered that Digi Key  has stopped printing and mailing a paper version of its catalog.  That really hurts.  I don’t want to end up sounding like this guy, but I am going to spend the rest of this space lamenting and kvetching.

I started engineering in earnest in 1994 – the internet was. . . . not the internet.  Getting paper data sheets, application notes, and manufacturer sell sheets was the only way to get information.  Chief among that set was the Digi Key catalog.  There were other mail order distributors such as Newark and Allied that could handle the small quantities that we normally deal in.  However, I always preferred the Digi Key layout over any of the others.

The chief benefit of the layout was that like parts were grouped together, regardless of the manufacturer.  For example, all of the enclosures were in one spot.  If I needed to find an enclosure I could go to the enclosure section and easily “window shop” until I found one with the correct dimensions, materials, and price.  It is kind of embarrassing how many times I have specified items for a designs using that method.  The other catalogs never seemed to group their contents in such an easy to find manner.

Another good aspect of the Digi Key catalog was the amount of information they packed into the description.  Usually there was a basic mechanical drawing, environmental specs, basic operational information, and price with price breaks.  You could be half-way to finding a part using the catalog.  Basically I learned how to specify parts “backwards”.  If I could find it in Digi Key and it looked like I fit, I would then go in search of the manufacturers information to see if it really worked.  I knew if it was in the catalog, I could use it and Digi Key could get it too me overnight, if necessary.

Even with the advent of the Internet, I still did a bunch of design that way.  I understand why they stopped printing the catalog and shipping it out every few months.  The final catalog has 2776 pages and weighs four and a half pounds.  Sending that out to tens of thousands of prospective customers must have become cost-prohibitive.  In fact, Digi Key announced that they were stopping printing and the mailing the catalog around the time of this announcement.  I know correlation is not causation, but the timing is suspicious.

Digi Key has replaced the paper catalog on-line with their Dynamic Catalog.  I’ve used this a few times and find it. . . . lacking.  Essentially, they fall into the same trap they so long avoided:  everything is listed by manufacturer and product family instead of a cross pollination that their paper catalogs so often had.  For example, if you were looking for an LCD character module, this is the overview you get – a listing of character module manufacturers with some pictures.  No pricing, no specifications, no mechanical data.  You have to individually click through to each manufacturer and look at each part.  It makes comparison shopping difficult and frustrating.

Their normal on-line product index is a bit better as seen here for LCD character modules.  Again, its missing the pricing and there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the initial layout.  I understand that the rows can be sorted and this is a nice feature, but I am lamenting the passing of the great design that their paper catalog had.  I had hoped that they still laid out the catalog and loaded it onto their web site in a PDF form, but I could not find that.  I will get used to the new form from Digi Key, and I am sure their Dynamic Catalog will improve, but for the first time that I can remember, they have made my job harder and not easier.

Digi-Key Logo


  1. David Korabell says:

    True, online isn’t the same. I pretty much grew up with the large Newark catalog always beside my bed. Any time I attempted some project it was perfect to search for similar or related parts and you had more product data immediately present than with online catalogs.

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