Moleskine vs. Apple: Hemingway's Notepad Maker Goes Digital

Special paper and a tiny pen camera make your scribbles appear on your phone.

Moleskine's Writing Set Is a Digital Paper Notebook

Hard-drinking wordsmith Ernest Hemingway had one. So did Pablo Picasso. The leather-bound notepads made by Moleskine SpA are a staple in the arsenal of those in the creative industries.

Yet young creatives today are just as likely to use an iPad. Moleskine and its leatherbound competitors face a mounting threat as electronic-tablet makers such as Apple Inc. target artists, architects, and writers in an effort to halt a sales decline. In the past seven months, Apple has introduced two models of the iPad Pro, a more expensive version of its tablet. Now users can attach a keyboard and pair it with the Apple Pencil stylus.

Moleskine, of Milan, has responded with the Smart Writing Set, which uses an infrared camera in the pen to track its movement on a pad covered in microscopic markings. The content can be uploaded to a smartphone or tablet. The pen-and-notebook set costs $199, the special notebook alone $29.95. The product is more profitable than classic paper notebooks and holds the promise of recurring revenue that a purely digital tablet forgoes. 

While that’s a cheaper proposition for the consumer than the $599 iPad Pro, you do need a device running iOS or Android to upload the content you create, and the pen is better for scribbling notes than for drawing masterpieces.

Nor is Moleskine likely to make a dent in Apple’s revenue, at $23 billion in iPads alone last year. Moleskine’s total revenue, including the classic notepad business, was €128 million ($142 million). That was still a 30 percent jump from the previous year. The company's growing digital product range is important enough that Moleskine has carved out a new reporting segment for it.

Moleskine itself wasn't founded until 1997. The company that used to supply Hemingway and Picasso had gone out of business. Moleskine seized upon its cultural iconography to relaunch the product.

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