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The iconic Moleskine is going digital. What does that tell us about the brand's future?

Soumya Shankar | Updated on: 15 June 2015, 13:48 IST

Moleskine, one of the last bastions of putting pen to paper, flag-bearer of all things old-school, has been bitten by the digital bug.

If you're part of the creative class, you've probably owned one of these epic notebooks. You know it's not just luxury stationery, it's a cultural marker. It tells people you are part of an elite world of global nomads.

Vintage meets web

So what could a company that makes high-end notebooks - which is all about the feel of paper and leather - possibly have to do with the digital space?

A whole lot, it turns out. The brand has tied up with Livescribe, a paper-based computing platform, to enable your notebook to transmit your doodles and scribbles via a Bluetooth smart pen to any device in real time. This limited edition of the Bluetooth-enabled notebook is priced at $30 apiece.

This isn't Moleskine's first foray into tech. In 2014, the company launched Evernote Notebook, which lets you take a photo of any page with a special camera and instantly makes it digital, enabling you to save, search and share your writing with whoever you want.

The stationery maker has been pursuing the digital space ever since the launch of its IPO in 2013. The move may have been driven by necessity, but the allure of the Moleskin notebook is in its history.

Glamorous beginnings

'A small black notebook, born from a great tradition' is how the company describes its iconic products. It started with a small French bookbinder creating black rectangular notebooks with rounded corners, bound in oilcloth and held together with an elastic page holder. They became the rage with the fabled art community of 19th-century Paris; Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh used them.

Leap a hundred years ahead to 1987, when writer Bruce Chatwin christens the notebook and makes it immortal in his novel The Songlines.

Moleskine embed

Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines

Cut to 1997, and a Milanese stationer, Modo & Modo, begins producing the notebooks again, giving it the form we know today; pitching it as heir and successor to the legendary Parisian notebooks.

Exciting future

The notebook may have made a nod to technology in 2015, but the stats still look good on the paper side. Nearly 93 percent of the company's revenue comes from its 600 paper products, seven percent from its non-paper goods, like bags and pens. Only 0.4 percent comes from the digital unit.

The balance of profit might change. But if Moleskine manages to keep the marriage of analog and digital going - preserving the romanticism of the physical while embracing the efficiency of technology - they may have just achieved the ultimate marriage of medium and message.

First published: 24 May 2015, 16:07 IST
Soumya Shankar @shankarmya

An ex Correspondent with Catch, Soumya writes on politics and social issues. She lives in New York and swears undying allegiance to New Delhi.