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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The future of the planners industry?

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine in the planners industry about things like the open letter to Filofax's PR company, my list of planner companies who listen to their customers, and Letts being sold. He gave me some shocking news that he has heard Moleskine is also up for sale! We got into an interesting discussion about the future of the paper planners industry and he said it was okay for me to share his viewpoint with you all. Here's what he had to say:

Hi Laurie:

After reading your post on Filofax and companies who don’t listen to their users I would like share some of my thoughts.

1-       For planners and organizers there are always difficulties in keeping in line with what the core customers want and what we can produce to bring in new users.  In this sunset industry (some people would say it is sunset) it is more and more important that we grab the younger youth customers.  Even younger kids who are taught by their parents or teacher to keep in the habit of being organized.  Those are our future market and customers. 

So what does this say about the core or hard core users.  Number one rule is do not rock the boat.  We learned this the hard way.  Especially the formats and cover design.  Slight changes of fonts, color or cover design will greatly impact these users and 90 percent of the time they will hate it.  The solution is to not change the core products for these users but minor adjustments such as more color cover offerings or different texture covers.  On the guts side will be updated information sections and different paper selections plus slight updates of the formats over time so the end users can adjust to it.

2-       Filofax:  They have the same problem as many of the other companies including us is that will this be a profitable business in the future or will it die off 10 years down the road.  This stuck in my head for the past few weeks when I see what is happening in the market trend is that “Do we want to become the king of the typewriters”.  Will this happen in the planner and organizer industry…most likely yes within the next 10 years.  The goal is to find your direction…find your focus in what products you want to develop and offer.  As business goes it is shrinking every year and we must find new ideas to grow.  

The key is not to lose focus of what you are developing and always keep the end users in mind.  

Here are my thoughts on Moleskine.  I do apologize that I might be harsh on this but I am not standing from the consumer side but from a branded company side.

Moleskine is a great brand with a great product image…with something that started out as a simple product and turned into a global niche brand that everyone tried to follow….but is it just an empty shell with no clear direction on where to go.

Moleskine started out in semi selective markets where the cool folks picked it up (Designers, Celebrities, artists and such)  with it they gathered a hard core user base who thinks they are more creative than the mass public.  They feel using Moleskine put you in a higher level of consumerism.  However in a global market a brand cannot make money on just the few folks.  Would Moleskine's popularity be where they are now without the mass public snatching up their product?  The answer is no.

However here is where lays the catch 22 problem.  Which means if you become popular it is hard to be cool with your hard core users.  Also you need to make $$ so you have to mass market sale the goods and then expand your company.  There is no in between.  You either will be small and mostly unknown and cater only to the hardcore users and risk the greater chance of not being able to do more or go broke doing it….the other choice will be to go mass market and earn more cash to build an empire (with the side effect of less quality and more quantity and more different products that your core groups will not like or have to do up special product ranges for mass retail chains so everyone can have a Moleskine and it will not be special anymore…) .  So in reality they went with the mass market route.  When you see it in Target with a cheap look and in less than pleasing displays or end cap programs… it means your brand is just like all others….nothing special.  It only means that parents can now justify buying a cool Moleskine for their kids and not think about “Did I just spend that much money for a blank note book??”

The problem now is that they have expanded into all these different products and sold everywhere…online and retail.  With the heavy down turn in economy in developing countries and shrinkage of developed retail market channels going bust it will hurt the company if the finance is not up to par.  And this is what is hitting them now I feel.  Going mass market means your profit %% is much less and a simple currency drop can wipe you out. Maybe they are ok still or maybe not but the bottom line is the bottom line….$$ comes first.  The brand will be here as long as people use paper to write on.

This is a fascinating glimpse inside the business of planners and what companies are going through right now. I do understand the industry is in general decline and that some will go out of business. But I think people will still be using paper planners 10 and more years from now. I just think there will probably be fewer people using them than now. Companies have to decide what their niche market will be. Mass production? Very high quality? Whatever it is, it will become a test of Survival Of The Fittest and only the few companies who manage to keep afloat will still be around 10 years from now.

What do you think?


  1. I don't think there will be a decline-and I don't think there will be fewer people using them.
    Here's why: Technology is wonderful, I love it--but I am also often disgusted with it. The "newness" wears off quickly, or it doesn't function the way it should, and so I go back to the "old fashioned" way of doing something. I don't think I'm the only one, and I see more and more young people becoming disillusioned with technology as well, and turning to more effective (or more satisfying) methods of accomplishing what they want to do.
    Maybe I'm naive, or just hopeful--and I'm sure it is a really hard market--but as with most things I think the pendulum will swing back.

  2. I totally agree Rori..people buy gadgets because they have a weird idea the gadget will make them orgnised, its a toy and it's a status symbol that has a very short lifespan, and heres my reasoning a hoover enables you to keep your house clean, if you don't use said hoover it won't keep your house clean. people look to the proverbial magic pill about keeping themselves organised, and I dare say some do with the latest gadget. It's not a case you're either into technology or your not..but a case of which do you use more often, and feel more comfortable using and how bad your handwriting is.. I agree also that gadgets are not an age thing.. remember the time when they said we'd be all doing a 3 day week...the paperless office...robots to do the ironing... has it happened hell no...
    Yes, during a recession companies do go bust even good ones and yes a few bad eggs will survive..
    And yes you can't sync a bunch of paper organisers like you can electronic gadgets, but the cloud, plaxo etc doesn't always talk to each other either very well..
    In my mind as long as there are materials to make paper..there will be paper oganisers..

  3. I find this rather depressing. I see younger people, who no longer learn to write in American schools and have iPads foisted upon them at age 2, coming of age without any knowledge of the value of paper. I'm a daily subscriber to the New York Times in print, which I LOVE. I love writing and receiving letters through the mail. I take notes on paper. I have a house full of books and no interest in switching to an e-reader.

    But I see all of this disappearing. My local stationery store's clientele is very grey now, and frequently it is deserted. Newspapers are cutting print circulation like crazy. It seems that a majority of paper planner folks at my work are a generation older than me, and those colleagues who are my age are all decidedly digital as far as planners go.

    Personally, I'm really fed up with hearing about how wonderful digital technology is. When you get right down to it, I think that digital technology is ruining the natural ways that human beings interact with each other. We're losing the ability to write, we're losing the joy of printed reading material, we're losing the ability to enjoy the moment with the people we are with. I go to parties and see everyone busy consulting their mobile phones. Communication is not direct and personal now; it's broadcast. How totally impersonal!

  4. I am one of those people returning to paper and slowly removing electronic devices from the way I work. Not completely. I still use a computer for the internet, an ereader for novels and am thinking of getting a smart pen to integrate my writing with the tech. Yes, I have a smart phone as well.

    Yet, I am finding that keeping paper notebooks to do my work in is easier for the creative process. I remember my paper written notes longer and better. My research notes, all printed on paper and organized in a filofax binder has proven to be the best solution to my work. No more worry if the device will come on or not. Recently, I moved to a moleskine planner for my purse and my life has suddenly become stable again. No more not knowing my schedule because of lack of access to my calendar due to cel outages or faulty software.

    I have noticed that there is a substantial number of young people that are embracing paper these days. Perhaps they also realize the advantages it offers over the slowness of inputting into tech and the difficultly in accessing data at all times. I have a feeling that paper will be around for a long time, but we will view it differently. Perhaps more as an art form instead of as pure utility.

  5. Indiogarden, it has been scientifically proven,that people learn, process and remember better from reading off paper than off a computer screen.

  6. I LOVE paper. But I think paper planners will see a decline. I started using FC planners in 1993. At the time the store was full of all kinds of wonderful options. There were tons of binders and inserts and every year they came out with new ones. It was awesome! But in the last 5 years, things have changed. FC stores have a lot fewer binders and insert choices. Their focus seems to be on totes, organizing supplies and training classes. It's very discouraging. I've noticed a similar trend with Day Timer. And the selection at the office supply stores is less, too.

    The bottom line is that lots of people like technology. They don't want to carry around a paper planner. And in truth, most of the people I know don't even plan. They plan stuff for work but they don't plan for their personal life. Most of them use their iphone calendar or a wall calendar and that's it.

    Perhaps paper will make a comeback at some point. But I don't think it will be soon. And planner companies have to do what they have to do to survive. Fortunately, if they all shut down, I can create my own planner. I don't have to have them although they do make it easier.

    And by the way - when I pull out my paper planner most people think I'm crazy. I do it anyway (and honestly, I'm way more organized than most of them with their electronic planners) but I get tired of them acting like I'm nuts. It's been nice finding other planner people here on Plannerisms and Philofaxy. I'm still thinking about switching to Filofax so I'll fit in among my new friends! :)

    1. You have banged the nail on the head, some people don't plan at all... and to be fair to the gadget people some are very organised...it's not the system sometimes is do you use it..I feel a blog coming on...

    2. Definitely some of the gadget people are organized. But I don't know very many who are. But like I said, most of the people I know don't plan at all.

      But for sure no system will work if you don't use it. Agreed.

    3. I agree.. it's been disheartening that there are less and less paper choices around.

      My personal take is that paper products will make a comeback. There is a personal touch that paper provides which gadgets can never replicate, no matter how advanced technology gets. The only question is: when?

  7. I see the future of paper journals in the creative fields because it is necessary to touch, feel and express something tangible. Electronic gadgets are great for scheduling and reminders, but they just don't work for people who want to create with their hands. Digital art can be amazing, but it is not a real thing until it is printed on paper or onto something physical. As an artist, I need to touch and feel my work in order to connect to it.

    I have found that creative types are more likely to use a paper planner, even if they don't plan much. The digital devices aren't conducive to doodling recording inspirations. And you can do all kinds of wonderful things with bound paper that can't be done with a phone shaped like a thin brick.

    1. I'm with you completely, Journalingarts. I wish Moleskine would listen to customers (like me) who have requested more formats of sketchbooks and watercolor sketchbooks. I've always wanted a planner with heavier paper in the back half so I could sketch with watercolors and still have my planner in the front half. Although some artists have embraced digital sketching, most still love the tactility of paper and ink. If I were a planner company, I would glom onto that built-in paper-friendly audience and design more products to appeal to that market.

  8. PLUS you can't use a fountain pen on your stupid iToy--and fountain pens are seeing a big resurgence :D There's hope!!

    1. That's true, Rori. But I will admit that I have never used a fountain pen. Should I?

    2. Of course you should! You should run, right now, over to Jet Pens and pick one out! Tweet me if you want recommends.

  9. Rori I always thought fountain pens were for Grown ups or for other people after seeing yours and Josh's You tube channels, I've realised that it might have something to do with the paper I had been using. I may just have to look at your past you tube videos or you could do an update....pretty please ...

  10. Some really interesting thoughts here. The only thing I can add is:
    1. Yes people don't seem to plan as much. My experience is that those who plan get things done - those who don't sort of drift aimlessly through life. Either parents or teachers could do more to encourage this habit.
    2. Thinking about how the mind works. Some people just find paper a better medium. Think of training where some learn from hearing, some from sight and some from writing it down. It would be tragic to loose this medium.
    3. Digital companies have a lot of money to spend on branding etc. I do wonder if planning companies could spent more effort on educating in the benefits of planning (at an affordable level instead of amazingly expensive training days)- the science behind it - the huge body of evidence which states those who achieve use this sort of planning tool. They could do with a really heavyweight endorsement or 'face of the brand' in the business or achievement world - but someone who is current and aspirational. They could do a lot more to engage digitally - on you tube, and other social media. Give away some of the training gems in order to get people interested and buying their products.

    I feel a lot of the planner companies are still stuck in 1980s style advertising and marketing.

    Just a few thoughts.

    1. Some very interesting views - there's always thought-provoking thoughts on Laurie's blog!

      I recently acquired an iPad2 and I'm staggered at what it will do - especially when synchronised via The Cloud. I'm a very long standing paper fan but can see me ending up with a Filofax Flex notebook and everything else digital.

      My daughters came home from school last night to announce that every child will have an iPad from January. This is not some posh school but a standard Yorkshire (UK) comprehensive ("high school"). Parents are being asked to contrubute £10 ($15) per month to a Government backed scheme. Their paper planners will go and all homework (except English) will be submitted online rather than in writing books. Maybe this is widespread elsewhere, but it still came as a shock to me.

  11. Wow, this is a great post with some great comments! I have to agree with a lot that has been said.

    This makes me think of the situation that public libraries are going through right now. Many people believe that libraries will no longer exist in 10 years, but if patron flow shows anything, it will be the opposite. I can only speak from my experience, but we have seen an increase in prove coming in. With things going digital, more and more patrons are coming in to get help with eDevices. People who don't go to public libraries very often don't realize that they are staying on top of all things digital. We have to in order to survive. Libraries now offer more and more electronic titles, (whether in ebook format or audiobook) as well as offering assistance with setting up, using, and reviews for the ever growing number of devices out there. Of course this applies mainly to the older population and we will need to change again when they are no longer around. Sure, the role of public libraries is changing. We are now becoming community centers more than strictly research. "Real" old-school reference questions are rare. Even for school papers and projects, students turn to the Internet first. Many are forced to come to us when they can't find what they need, when they realize that google doesn't in fact know everything. The point is, the role of libraries is changing. Staff need to adapt to those changes or they will be left behind. We may not be what we were 20 years ago but I don't see libraries collapsing anytime soon. (Of course this all depends on the library, it's location, it's funding and its public.)

    With all of that said, I think it's a similar situation with paper based planners. I think there will always be an audience of people who use and refer them. I agree that many companies will fold and the ones left standing may revamp their offerings so that we have less to choose from. But I don't see them disappearing altogether. In a few years time we may be forced to create our own inserts if we don't like the few choices and we may not be able to get beautiful binders the way we once were. But some form of them will exist.

    I too have an iPad and an iPhone, and while I don't do any of my planning electronically, I sure can see the draw. The problem with schools giving out iPads and relying solely online for all assignments and the like, what happens if the server goes down, if the iPad loses its battery charge, etc? I think that might become the excuse standard - rather than my dog ate my homework, it might become, my iPad lost its charge. I just think that we as a society are setting ourselves up for disaster if we only rely on electronics for everything. Not only from a logistics standpoint, but a social one as stated above. I can already see that young people don't know how to interact with each other if they're not communicating over a device. It's sad really.

    Technology is great and has helped in many ways. But like everything else, it shouldn't be the end-all. I feel like I could go on and on with my ramblings, so ill just stop here for now. :-)

  12. I can't see planners disappearing completely, especially not in the workplace. I work in the public sector and tablets/smartphones would have to cost just a few pounds before staff were given them! I love gadgets and apps, but always return to paper because I just find the digital stuff takes longer and is more complicated than just getting a pen out.

    I do think that the planner companies need to promote their products more, especially in the UK. I doubt most of my friends would even know what a planner was. I had never even heard that term before I started watching organisation videos made by Americans on YouTube. In shops all you can usually get is a very basic appointments diary with very little room to write.

    The comments about Moleskines are interesting. I think most people I know view Moleskines as being bought by pretentious middle-class people who think they are creative hipsters, but are actually very conventional and desperate to appear with the right brand! I like Moleskines, but have wondered whether there would be a massive backlash at some point.

  13. The kids I come into contact with today are using far more high tech stuff than I did, but more of them are also using paper based planners, journals, notebooks, etc. My contemporaries and I did not use planners when we were kids.

    Technology is very good and always getting better, and more and more costly. It's especially, good for quickly aggregating vast amounts of data. But, technology can only augment the thought process. I think most times we need more think time rather than more data.

    In any event, I like the tactile experience of leather and paper (I still hangout in local book stores, and I actually purchase and read hardcopy books), and being able to write or doodle, etc with my hand and pen or pencil of choice at the time. I have not witnessed youngsters feeling differently than I do, albeit, they're using more gadgetry than I. All of that said, do I think there will be consolidations of paper based products ... absolutely. But I think that's normal and the result of an overage of variety in sizes, shapes, colors, materials, etc, etc, etc. It's not rocket science. How many choices do we really need of anything? And lastly, for those who make truly artisan objects, I think they will be fine going forward because people have innate feelings about quality hand workmanship.

  14. FWIW, both of my children have had paper planners given to them by their secondary school. They're expected to note stuff for themselves, and for us to see (we sign the planners once a week or so, having checked them).

    As for me, I use a combination of electronic and paper planning - smartphone/computer for things it's handy to get audible reminders of, and "hard" calendar events, and paper for project planning, quick notes &c. I'm still using Filofax, although the variation in quality of Moleskine's products pushed me (happily) towards Rhodia - for sketchbooks & watercolour books, I use Seawhite, which are cheap at a local art shop, and have pretty good paper.

    (Here's a thread on fpgeeks with some pictures of the A6 Seawhite sketchbook; http://fpgeeks.com/forum/showthread.php/776-Quick-Look-Seawhite-A6-Hardcover-Sketchbook )

    Miatagrrl - it's not quite the planner you have in mind, but Seawhite do make a notebook with alternating lined & plain pages called "Artist's Journal". My art shop has these in A6 and A5 size - maybe that would work for you?

  15. Laurie, thanks for this post, for it stimulates us to think about the future of this important industry.

    For the record, it is important to point out that your friend presented a biased assessment of Moleskine. There is an interesting article on Time Magazine, that discusses the "state of business" and the IPO of Moleskine. They are doing extremely well financially wise, growing 25% per year in the last 5 years, and managed to build a global brand in just 15 years (!!!).

    You can find the article here - http://business.time.com/2012/08/30/ahead-of-ipo-moleskine-evolves-from-notebooks-to-apps/

    It seems the other planner companies should look into what Moleskine is doing right.

    1. Of course his opinion is biased, and right now it's impossible to know what Moleskine's sales will be in the future. But sometimes companies go the IPO direction when they feel they have maxed out and want to sell when they are at their height. Whether they will actually decline or not remains to be seen.

  16. Here I come five weeks after everybody else. I moved from paper to the Palm twelve years ago, but by '07 the under-supporting software was no longer updated. My Palm still works but I can no longer sync it to update or re-install after the battery dies - especially important for addresses and directions to Maggie's farm. I'm back to Filofax.

  17. I moved from Paper to Palm twelve years ago but by '07 the underlying software was no longer compatible with Mac or Windows and I couldn't sync update or re-install when the battery died. Addresses and directions to Aunt Maggie's farm are lost. I'm back to Filofax, but the flexibility, searchability and immediacy of digital is missing.

  18. Just my gut feeling, but re: people not actually "planning" anymore, it may be a chicken or the egg thing. I think the very fact that most people are using electronic devices has discouraged real, thoughtful, reflective planning. The tool itself encourages a certain kind of behavior.

    But from what I've seen on YouTube, it appears that young people ARE discovering the joys of paper planners like Filofax, Erin Condren, and the like. I am keenly interested to see where this trend leads, as all of you are.

    Very interesting discussion!

  19. I think in the future(10 years or so) ipods or tablets in general, if they would still exist, will be cheap as dirt. And paper will be the luxury item, because it would be expensive to produce it. There would be only very view companies who do that and they'd set up high prices. And only reach people could use paper planners.


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