3 notebooks at Paperworld

Last weekend, I attended paperworld, the international trade fair for stationery, office supplies and writing instruments, and I went there with a clear mission in my mind: to see for myself, how an industry that USA Today recently said was “dying”, would present itself to both insiders and outsiders. This is not a comprehensive wrap-up of everything I saw – it’s just a quick recap of three notebooks.

I also went to this fair to see how writing is dealt with in non-academic contexts and to find out about trends and products that escape the academy’s self-absorption. And although I strolled about with far more than just my current job in mind, the first company I bumped into was one of the few at paperworld exclusively catering for a student target group: Whitelines.

The unique selling points are simple, but convincing: to make it easier on the eye, the paper is tinted in a light grey. Where standard paper comes with black lines on white paper, Whitelines comes with – who would’ve guessed – white lines. The combination of tinting and white lines is supposed to make writing and sketches of any kind stand out more than on normal paper – a feature that should prove to be especially handy for students who draw a lot and/or whose vision profits from a more relaxed visual input. Here’s a sample to get an idea:

As you can see, script indeed does stand out more on the Whitelines paper. A second major sales point regards how people then deal with notes once they’re taken: an app allows for easy scanning of handwritten notes and to save them in Evernote, Dropbox or your mail account. As far as I can tell, the app also increases the contrast on every scan, which makes both the tinted area and the lines disappear. Therefore, what you get are plain white scans that look quite great, and this is what sets Whitlelines apart from similar products like Oxford, e.g. Plus, the products are priced with students in mind which makes this Swedish enterprise even more charming. Check ’em out on Instagram to see more examples of the paper at work.

Another notebook I got my hands on at Paperworld were the flex books from Greece. Last year, I had already been given a sample by the German sales rep S.C. Lucht and I must say the flex book was convincing from the first moment of touch. The product is all about sturdiness. The company’s original binding combines the advantages of spiral and pin bookbinding while at the same time giving things a bit of an artistic appearance. The binding makes for a lay-flat notebook that should be esp. attractive to the left-handed and you just cannot break the spine on this one. These things really can take a proper beating, they should last for years and years without coming apart.

The third brand I want to mention in this post will be less of a surprise: Leuchtturm 1917. The re-orientation of this company since 2005 sure was a serious makeover. Formerly known esp. for their collectors’ supplies for collectors of coins and stamps, Leuchtturm is no doubt among those who successfully made the transition into the digital era. Although other brands may excel in the integration of the digital and the analoge (where Leuchtturm still remains dedicated to the latter), the family business delivers premium quality with ‘details that make a difference’ (to roughly quote the company motto).

One of their products they are currently famous for is the Bullet Journal. Although the journaling method developed by Ryder Carroll as “analoge system for the digital age” is available for free, it was his collab with Leuchtturm that would mould it into a marketable product, which the good people from Leuchtturm were generous enough to emboss with my initials.

Would I have to pick a favorite amongst these three, I’d have a pretty rough time, as I believe every notebook caters for a specific kind of writing situation – some more, than others. But all are no doubt great products and this was just a minor fraction of what there was to see at Paperworld.

Just as a quick aside: handlettering is still going strong and I was stoked to see what companies like Molotow and On the Run do and how they market their stuff. Very intriguing indeed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Graffiti soon made a major return into mainstream…

So, at the end of the day, my conclusion to Paperworld is this: Yes, the market is under pressure and yes, some sure are living through hard times in the stationery business. But it is in this regressive conditions that truly innovative approaches and business models stand out as truly original and inspiring. So is stationery really a “dying” business as USA Today proclaimed? I doubt it.

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