The May 2011 High Frequency Electronics arrived with the sad news that the most recent Digi-Key catalog is the last, replaced by the www.digikey.com web site. Digi-Key are also cancelling their TechZone magazine.
I suppose it was inevitable. The warning signs were certainly there, as Digi-Key sent thinner and less frequent catalogs to hobbyists than to professionals, then cut back to annual issues. Nevertheless, I will miss the giant catalog that has always had a prominent place in my office and home lab.
I received my first Digi-Key catalog in 1983. Back then, it was thin, only 32 or 64 pages long. They had a good optoelectronics section, which remains one of their strengths. The only US semiconductor manufacturer they carried was National Semiconductor, though they distributed several lines of Japanese semiconductors. (At one point, I wondered if National was Japanese, too!)
In those days, the “-ND” suffix meant No Discount. Prominently displayed on the catalog front cover was a schedule of discount percentages, with better discounts for larger orders. Full reels of parts and certain expensive items had an “-ND” on their part number to mark them as exempt from the discount, but anything without the “-ND” was fair game. Later, Digi-Key started listing price breaks for intermediate quantities (10, 25, 100, etc.), and as that practice spread through the catalog, the “-ND” suffix became ubiquitous. Today, it serves only as Digi-Key’s signature, which is ironic given its origins as an exceptional case.
I will miss the serendipitous discovery that the printed catalog made possible. More than once I went looking for one thing and spotted something else interesting and useful. I also learned a lot from the catalog, since when I started receiving it, I was just a kid who didn’t know there were resistor types beyond what Radio Shack sold. Every five years or so, I read the catalog cover-to-cover. I mostly skip over the boring lists of part numbers, but I pay attention to the detailed descriptions of FPGAs, processors, development boards, tools, passive components, optoelectronics, and more. Over the following years, memories of what I saw will percolate up when I’m looking for a solution to a problem. It has been worth my time.
I hope Digi-Key looks for ways to provide that serendipity in a search-engine world. How am I to know about a cool new component if I don’t know I should search for it in their database? Maybe I’ll have to start getting the trade magazines for the advertisements. Lately I’ve just been scanning their RSS feeds. Are EDN and Electronic Design still printing on paper, or have they gone all-electronic, too?
A compromise would be an e-book version of the catalog, which is already available as a 140 Megabyte PDF! I wonder if that will go extinct, too. There is surely a cost to creating the catalog, though it is surely less than the printing and postage costs.
The change may lead me to buy more from Mouser. Mouser’s search engine is just a little bit better, and if search engines are all we have, that little bit will give them an edge.
I bought my first National Semiconductor databooks from the pages of the Digi-Key catalog. Times change. Farewell, old friend of the thin newsprint and satisfying “thunk”. I’m glad I’ve known you over these years.
Update 5/21/11: Here is the Digi-Key press release, “Digi-Key Drops Printed Catalog and Redefines Itself as The Leading Totally Integrated Internet-Based Global Distributor“