Is the printed catalogue a thing of the past?

Printed Catalogues

In July 2020 after 47 years, kings of the catalogue, Argos, decided to do away with their printed catalogue, following a pattern seen with other retail giants such as Next and Ikea. There is no doubt that shopping habits have changed over the last 10 years, with a gradual shift away from physical stores to online shops, and the pandemic really has accelerated the trend. Retailers have had to adapt quickly to the new shopping environment and many smaller independent shops have had to react fast and come up with new ways to connect with their market. Many have taken their shops online via their own e-commerce sites or have clubbed together to form virtual high streets.

Undoubtedly, a printed catalogue represents a certain cost to the business producing it, and it could be tempting to think that by going virtual, many of these costs can be avoided. However, many of the factors involved with producing a printed catalogue can also apply to the virtual alternatives. So let’s look at them and also the benefits of each option.

Financial costs of print

In a traditional business model it is the “bottom line” which counts, and so increased sales and reduced expenditure are desirable.

It is undeniable that by taking your printed catalogue online you will be saving yourself both printing and distribution costs. The print cost will depend on your catalogue specification and print run length. Paper costs fluctuate, but in general the longer the print run, the lower the unit cost. Distribution costs will depend on the weight of the publication, and whilst increased competition within the distribution sector has lowered prices, these savings are often offset by increasing fuel costs.

Financial costs of online

So it would be easy to imagine that by taking your print online, you can automatically save yourself a heap of cash, right? Well it is important to remember that there are financial costs related to ecommerce too, such as hosting, maintenance, ssl certificates and subscription services. And there may also be ongoing staffing costs if you decide to manage the store in-house.

Environmental impact of print

The forward thinking business will also take into consideration the environmental impact of their actions. This also applies to marketing and sales strategies. Many modern offices claim to be paper-free, or are working towards that goal, however

There are many aspects to consider:

With printing, the focus is often on paper, and whether it is recycled, FSC etc however with printing the greatest environmental impact often comes with the manufacture of the printing machinery itself. Many of the big names in printing, such as Heidelberg are improving their own processes and are now manufacturing carbon neutral printers, some of this is achieved by carbon offsetting, and some by integrating more efficient and more environmentally friendly technologies within their own plants and products. Modern presses use considerably less energy to run than older ones, and are designed to create less waste. Environmentally friendly inks such as UV ink and vegetable ink are fast replacing the old inks which emit harmful VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) as they dry. And of course any printers worth their salt will source their stock from FSC suppliers and will be ISO Certified in Environmental Management Systems.

There is also the environmental impact of delivery to consider. Even with more efficient delivery practices and the increased use of electric vehicles and posties on foot, it is estimated that the delivery of a regular letter has a carbon footprint of 29g.

Environmental impact of online

Similarly to printing, the manufacture of the infrastructure of the internet (servers, data centres, telecoms and devices) is not without its own environmental impact; and indeed much has been said about the use of precious metals in modern technology. In addition to this there is the power and cooling of this technology which is supplied by our electricity grids, and this is often overlooked. In fact it is thought that 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions comes from the internet and our devices and this figure is only set to increase. With that in mind, many data centres are looking towards greener options, are using innovative cooling methods and are introducing more effective use of power, coupled with greener energy suppliers.

But it’s only an email.

The carbon footprint of a typical email is 4g, however when an attachment is added, such as a pdf catalogue file, that could increase to between 19g and 50g

So it would seem that for both printed and online options, the carbon footprint of the manufacturing are similar. The running implications of online options are considerably higher and while there is no immediate waste generated by the virtual brochure, its reliance on technology for access should not be discounted.


To produce a catalogue certainly requires a certain amount of human investment, both for preparation of content and for the design stage. This would be more or less the same whether or not the catalogue would be printed or viewed online. A printed document then has to be produced which involves the input of various prepress, production and finishing agents. Whilst this would most likely be carried out by a third party, there would usually be a 1-2 week turnaround (longer if you have a particularly large catalogue). An online online pdf catalogue could be considered finished as soon as the design phase is complete depending on whether you decide to add hyperlinks etc to your ecommerce. If you are using an ecommerce system for your catalogue, the setup is likely to take a similar amount of time or longer than a printed/pdf brochure. However, ecommerce systems do need regular maintenance in order to remain secure and up to date. Depending on the human resources you have available within your organisation this could be done in house or by a third party.

Impact vs accessibility

There is no doubt that a well-designed printed catalogue will have an impact on the recipient. The physical presence of your publication on a desk or shop counter is a constant reminder of your organisation. Packed with relevant information, your catalogue can be a handy tool and reference item. The chosen materials and finish should work with the design and serve to reinforce your message and brand identity. Whilst your pdf brochure will contain all the same information as its printed counterpart, it is likely to be filed away amongst other digital resources, so unless the recipient is an experienced hot-desker or already works in a paper-free environment, your digital resource is likely to have less impact than a printed version.

However – a printed document can only work for you where it is physically present. That means you have

a) Sent it – see postage costs! And this also relies on the recipient having actually kept it.
b) Delivered it in person – Again, costs, plus time.
c) Given it to someone at an event – More costs, and more time!

If time or money are particularly limited in your business, then an online pdf catalogue could be the ideal solution for you. If you have already built a gdpr friendly database of contact details, then all you need to do is to click “send”. In theory, this would enable you to send out regular brochure updates, seasonal promotions etc to your entire client base at almost no cost.

Convenience store

So far the focus of this discussion has been on the advantages and disadvantages for you, the business owner. However, the smart marketeer should take a customer focused approach. In the long run this will benefit the business too. So as successful campaign is a question of making things as easy as possible for the end user to get your product. Historically (as in our original case of Argos) this was to make browsing at home possible by way of a catalogue, and removing the need to carry items round a shop to the checkout. These days, we are accustomed to the convenience of internet shopping, and this is becoming more the case for business customers too. An online pdf catalogue can be a convenient way to generate interest in your products and drive traffic to your website. A well built, secure ecommerce solution can then enable a purchase to be made in a matter of clicks. Added ecommerce functionality such as subscription plugins can also enable customers to sign up for regular orders. This makes life easier for the customer, removes the need to remember to buy, get round to making the purchase and so on. In return it generates a steadier income for your business, and by automating some of the purchasing steps, it can remove some of the administrative burden associated with making a sale. It’s a win-win situation.

Of course in some b2b environments, involving high value items, or perhaps where expert advice or technical sales teams are needed, the printed catalogue may still be more appropriate.

Tangiable value

Finally, it is worth considering the value of the physical booklet. Beyond its intrinsic value, which is probably negligible, a printed catalogue can go on to have a different sort of worth. Over time, these printed marketing items will be a part of the history of your organisation. For some luxury goods companies and well-loved household names, such as Rolex or CocaCola, old marketing materials can be sought-after and go on to become valuable collectors’ items themselves. Whether or not you aspire for your organisation to sit alongside those giants, your marketing materials will all add to your brand identity and will bear witness to the history of your business for future generations.


The catalogue itself still plays an important part in any businesses marketing strategy.

Printed or online, there are significant environmental factors to consider, and the environmental impact of online is only set to increase.

An online pdf catalogue presents significant benefits in terms of finance and flexibility.

In right circumstances the printed catalogue can only serve to raise the profile and impact of your organisation within your market.

An online pdf catalogue can work hand in hand with your printed catalogue.

The choice whether to print or not will depend on your resources and your market.

If you are looking to have a catalogue design, you can contact us to discuss your requirements and what would work best for your business. Call us on 01298 605010 or email us at

You can also look at catalogue design prices here. 

Check out our Brochure and Catalogue Design Portfolio



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am:pm graphics is a graphic design partnership based in Buxton, Derbyshire. We offer a range of quality, affordable graphic design solutions for print and web, helping our customers achieve a consistent professional identity across a variety of media.

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