B&B Press

Everybody thought the rule was simple. Companies that produced any kind of media, such as brochures and catalogues, had to convert to digital or die. Traditional print media might be glossy and reliable, but audiences were demanding more engaging, relevant information. However, despite all of digital's perceived advantages over print, both have their pros and cons. Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of traditional and digital catalogues to help you decide which format to choose. 

digital v print comparison of brochures on desk

Traditional Print Catalogues

As the name might suggest, a traditional catalogue is a printed piece of media. It's often the first thing people might imagine when they think about a catalogue. 

Lush traditional catalogue design exampleImage credit


People Love Having Something To Hold

In 2016, it was reported that Waterstones had finally seen a rise in sales, the first since the 2008 financial crash and, in 2015, online giant Amazon opened its first physical bookshop. Why? People love having something to hold and interact with.

This is one of the biggest pros of a traditional catalogue. Digitally turning pages or using electronic bookmarks isn't as satisfying because print provides a completely different sensory experience.

Printed catalogues can have textured luxury paper, scented pages and those that change colour when exposed to different lights and temperatures. 

Reducing gorgeous images to a collection of pixels on a screen can lessen the impact you wanted them to have on your audience. For example, just look at the Lush catalogue design above. It's simple yet highly engaging and captures the reader's attention.

But those factors are much stronger when it's physically in your hands.

All of these factors add to the quality of your catalogue and quality says a lot about a company. 

Traditional Catalogues Are Reliable And Cause Less Hassle 

There's a reason why people automatically envision the physical book when they think about the Argos catalogue. Print is the traditional way - people are used to it and it's why they often automatically expect to receive a physical catalogue as opposed to a digital one.

Plus, there's no need to wait for the page to load, download or to install software such as Javascript in order to view it. All you need to do is pick up the catalogue and have a flick through.

People Are More Likely To Buy Things They See In Print

A 2014 study conducted by neuroscientists at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA, found that participants showed greater emotional response and memory for print ads than they did for digital.

Print ads caused more activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with value and desire. The conclusion? Traditional catalogue designs are more likely to persuade your customers to want to buy your products as opposed to a digital catalogue. 

Traditional Catalogues Aren't Limited By The Internet

The beauty of a printed physical catalogue is that you can take it with you wherever you go and read it wherever you are. A well-designed brochure can sit on-show on somebody's coffee table or worktop for weeks if not months. They're highly convenient as they can come in different sizes so they can be easily carried or placed around.

Digital content needs to be optimised for different devices - for example, a catalogue made for iPad viewing won't necessarily look good on a smartphone screen without some clever design work. The two devices are different sizes. In contrast, there's no optimisation issue with print catalogues and you don't need internet access. 


You Can't Make Any Changes Once It's Printed

Print literally is forever. Once a catalogue has been printed, you can't go back and try to correct any typos, tweak that wonky logo or update any information. You have to make sure that everything is perfect before you send it off to the printers. 

There's Limited Space 

With a traditional catalogue, you only have a limited amount of space to work on. For that reason, you'll have to prioritise which images and design elements deserve more of the page - unlike digital catalogues. 

Limitations Regarding Market Research

Because of their nature, it's more difficult to monitor the popularity of traditional print catalogues. This can potentially make it more challenging to optimise content in the future as you won't always know exactly what's working and what's not.

For example, with the Lush catalogue pictured above, you can monitor sales but you won't know whether the customers came from the catalogue or by verbal recommendation unless you ask them. Though if the end result is the same and you get more sales, well, who's checking this metric? 

Digital Catalogues

Digital fashion catalogue exampleImage credit

A digital catalogue is one that has been formatted for a number of different digital platforms. This includes for smartphones, iPads, tablets and anything on the web such as blogs. It's often available as downloadable content. 


It's Typically Fresher Content

As attention spans are decreasing, people want a constant stream of content to be delivered to them instantly. The result is that content often has to compete to be the freshest and most on-trend.

One of the biggest pros of a digital catalogue is that they're usually more current in terms of internet culture and can be edited once their references become irrelevant.

From videos and live social media feeds to links that allow customers to be taken directly to your website so they can purchase your product, these all help your audience engage more deeply with your company. For example, in the design above, links are particularly handy and would allow for a seamless shopping experience. This is, of course, not possible with a traditional catalogue. 

Social sharing is also possible with a digital catalogue. Your audience can share your content with their friends, which allows for more comments, views and ultimately, more engagement and greater brand awareness. 

Beware, however, that compared to a well-executed print brochure the effects of this sharing are very, very shortlived.

Digital Catalogues Can Be Updated Whenever You Want

Unlike a traditional catalogue, you can update a digital catalogue whenever you want - even after you've published it. This means you can update information, correct any errors and provide your audience with the constant stream of content that they so desire. 

Digital Catalogues Are Highly Accessible

Gone are the days of lugging around a heavy catalogue and worrying about spilling anything down its glossy cover. Your customers can now access your catalogue on any device they want and read it wherever they are - as long as they have internet access. 

Digital Catalogues Can Easily Be Tracked And Analysed

Because of their nature, it's easy to analyse the success of a digital catalogue. There are plenty of analytics tools that allow you to track the number of shares and level of engagement, which allow you to further optimise future content.

But they aren't perfect...


Not Every Catalogue Is Suited For Digital

Some catalogues may be better suited for the traditional route. It depends on your business's vision and target audience. For example, a holiday catalogue or a luxury high-fashion catalogue may work better in print than digital. These kind of images - picturesque landscapes and clothing in vibrant shades and luxurious fabrics - tend to look better on paper.

Silk paper can help traditional catalogues and their content look expensive and high quality, which might be exactly the kind of feel you want your business to have. 

Shortens Attention Span

Digital catalogues may be able to use more engaging tools such as videos and external links, but this isn't always a good thing. The same 2014 study we mentioned earlier found that people tended to remember printed content better than digital content - a result they attributed to the fact that digital content was more distracting.

And they have a point: how much more difficult is to read something on a screen when a video starts playing and an image starts flashing in the sidebar? 

Digital Publishing Is Becoming More Expensive

In the past, it could easily be said that digital was cheaper. Why else would publications like the Independent and Newsweek Magazine abandon the print world for the digital?

However, because of demand and popularity, digital publishing is becoming increasingly expensive and the cost can become an issue. Businesses with bigger budgets can afford better platforms, which leave little chance for the smaller businesses to stand out from the competition.


Find Out More About Creating A Luxury Brochure

The age-old debate between traditional and digital publishing is potentially never-ending. They each come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it depends on your business and how you wish to communicate to your audience. What do they want to hear and how do they want to hear it?

What are your competitors doing, because a well-planned and well-produced piece of print will set you apart from the 'RT' and 'Like' chasing crowd.

Our post might have outlined the main pros and cons of traditional and digital catalogues and brochures, but there's still so much to consider.

For even more tips, check out our guide on creating a luxury brochure ranging from print techniques to the type of stock you should consider.

Luxury Brochure Guide CTA

Topics: Print Advice