Sometimes I Can Resist: Ecosystem Notebooks at B&N

I went to Barnes & Noble today and finally got a close up look at their Ecosystem notebooks.
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At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to resist buying one, but the longer I looked at them, the more I felt a bit underwhelmed. First of all, the Union Square store didn’t have a very wide selection of colors and styles. Then I decided that the prices really weren’t all that exciting– $9.95 for a pocket size softcover, $6.95 for a set of 3 small¬† cahier-like notebooks, or $10.95 for a pocket size hardcover.

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Then I started to read the packaging more carefully and got annoyed. I don’t know why people have to whip up all this mythology around a line of notebooks. Moleskine’s Hemingway/Chatwin thing gets tired, but I found the Ecosystem verbiage even worse. They name each style of notebook after a role that might be associated with it, and add these definitions:

Unlined paper = ARTIST: an individual who utilizes their imagination to produce works that are beautiful and kind to the earth.

Squared paper = ARCHITECT: an environmentally aware person who creates strength and order with lines.

Lined paper = AUTHOR: one who writes with well-being and sustainability of the earth in mind.

Planner = ADVISOR: an ecologically friendly provider of professional or personal advice.

I really don’t mean to belittle environmental causes, but for some reason this makes me want to barf AND run over Bambi with a Hummer.

But okay, I’m over it now and will continue to try to lead my low-carbon-footprint lifestyle… just without buying one of these notebooks.

I mean, as notebooks go, they’re fine, I’m sure. They come in fun colors, and you can buy little inserts that slip into the back pocket so you can add an address book, calendar, to-do list or extra notes pages to your notebook. (I think it frustrates a lot of people that Moleskine includes a little slip-in booklet with some planners, but doesn’t sell them separately.) And I was most tempted by the graph paper notebook because it’s somewhat unique in having a smaller grid than any of the other graph paper notebooks I’ve used.

The Ecosystem website also mentions a few more unique features. If you register, you can read all sorts of info about the carbon footprint of your notebook. You can also enter the unique number of your notebook so they can help you try to recover it if it’s ever lost. And there are detailed instructions about how to separate all the various components of your notebook to recycle them, if you should decide that you don’t want to keep them. If these features are of use to you, by all means buy one of these notebooks!¬† But I’m afraid I had to pass.

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14 Responses to “Sometimes I Can Resist: Ecosystem Notebooks at B&N”

  1. I agree that the marketing fluff is atrocious, but I ignore it just as I ignore the mythologizing on Moleskines (I’m kind of amazed that their claims are taken seriously by anyone, but I still see people who buy them because they want to be the next Hemingway or Chatwain). One thing I appreciate about these is that they are made completely in the USA, with 100% recycled materials. You can even see the names of the people who made them on the web site. I buy lots of notebooks and journals made in lots of different countries, but it’s always nice to be able to support local industry, especially in these times. And I think these are well-made notebooks, comparable to what one would get for the same price with a Moleskine.

  2. Saw them at B&N and bought a small hard cover book. I agree, the eco stuff is marketing b.s. and is way overdone. Compared to the Moleskine, the Ecosystem book is thicker but has the same number of pages. The cover is thicker and stiffer and covered with a plastic material which seems tough and water resistant. The pages are heavier thicker paper. My only gripe is that they are microperfed and I fear that they may tear out easily. The elastic band is much sturdier and more durable than the mole. The page marker ribbon is a little to thick and heavy. Overall, it has potential to compete with the mole and seems a good product as long as you can stomach the marketing nonsense.

  3. I agree the marketing is a bit much, but so are most companies. I am glad I tried one of these, as the paper is excellent and takes any ink I throw at it, including fountain pen. The only other notebook with as good paper (actually, a touch better) is the Rhodia Webnotebook, but that one has smaller pagers (same size book) and costs $6 more. So far the construction has proven to be better than my experience with Moleskine and the perforated pages are quite secure, but nice to have when you need a spare piece of paper to give to someone. I had low expectation when I tried these but they now seem to me the best option available.

  4. Good to know that these notebooks have many redeeming qualities! Maybe I was just being too grumpy!

  5. I have had the gridded cahier version sitting in my backpack for a month now, but haven’t set pen to paper yet. I’m interested to try it out and I’ll be sure to post a review.

  6. I’m perfectly aware that the marketing is distinct from the product but if the company wants to put it together it can suck it up and take the lost sale if they get the marketing wrong and if it’s breathless and forgets that it’s blank paper in a cover then it’s got it wrong. It’s already got the “eco friendly” (the trees didn’t feel a thing) label, the carbon footprint lookup, the serial number/finder service so why does it need vapid prose too?

    I think Steve is right to say it’s good to support local business in hard times but that doesn’t mean propping companies that do business things badly, like marketing. That’s life support, not business. I don’t agree that most companies overdo marketing because you can’t get by by putting customers off very long.

    I like the definition of artist – “an individual who utilizes their imagination to produce works that are beautiful and kind to the earth.” Yeah, now explain oil based paint.

  7. As Steve & Stephen say, the eco angle is enough, the rest just makes me think they are trying WAY to hard and don’t have a clue. Fully deserving of your comment, “makes me want to barf AND run over Bambi with a Hummer” – I love that, laughed out loud.

  8. From my understanding, there are more styles, colors and sizes coming in the future. I think the product’s designer said the line went from design to market in something like 9 months.

    In the factory I’m in, we had to redesign a bunch of processes and machines to accommodate all natural materials and 100% recycled paper … the stuff simply does not behave the same way as the materials we have used for the last 100+ years … not difficult, but different.

    We continue to improve the processes involved to make the product go together better and easier.

    I hope all of you can find a style that suits your needs and all of us who worked on making this product thank you for your support.

  9. I was so put off by the marketing bilge, that I left them right where I found them. Even though I was inclined to support the US made notebooks.

    I’ve found that the Picadilly’s are just great for the money. I bought a pile of them, use around 3-4 of the small hardcover notebooks a year…so it’s cost effective.

  10. Hype-schmype, it’s just marketing but it’s not like they’re lying about anything.
    i received one of the lined pocket-sized nits for xmas. It’s a killer little notebook, I’ve got no complaints, yet, but I don’t have any valid observations yet, either. I’ve got to work through Leuchtturm and WhiteLines notebooks before attacking the ecosystem.
    I’m in the energy business, my company supplies electricity to most of Idaho. We’re about 60% hydro-based with coal- and gas-fired generation filling the seasonal and demand gaps. I am asked often about wind and solar and why we don’t have huge supplies of these resources online (we have all we can handle but are seeking future suppliers). The answers are supremely complex and most folks don’t have the patience for the political reality and physics lectures so I just ask them how they’d like to fund the development of renewable resources (hydro is about $0.04/kWh, renewables can cost more than ten times that but we have residential rates under $0.08/kWh, on whose property they should be built (wind and solar farms are H-U-G-E), and across whose land we should build the transmission lines (at about $1.2 million/mile).
    Recycled paper products are stupidly expensive and, as bookinator indicated, difficult (and even more expensive) to manufacture into viable products that have market appeal. Your newspapers, cardboard boxes, and your reams of wasted laser printer output are being turned into cool little notebooks right here in the US of A by brave entrepreneurs hoping to make some real money while satisfying a niche. Ignore the marketing. Try the product. Buy at least one of their books even it’s just to see if you can stand to use it.

    david boise ID

  11. I do agree that the intentions are noble, even if the way they are expressed is off-putting! Ecosystem has since sent me a sample and I’ll be doing a full review soon.

  12. 04/30/2010. Product use update: I say, “Buy at least one and try it!”
    short version: The pocket-size, ruled notebook is 50% fountain pen friendly, thick, hefty, fun colors, narrow ruled. I will buy more.
    I’ve been scribbling in a watermelon-colored pocket-size ecosystems notebook for a few days. The form factor is a molie clone. Significant descriptor for the cover material, elastic band, ribbon and endpapers is “thick.”
    While it is more substantial than the molie and feels like a better product, the ecosystems pocket notebook will not lie flat. This is also a major flaw with Whitelines notebooks and just makes them difficult for me to use. I did not realize how important this single feature of Moleskine was until I started trying other products. If you write on your knee or while standing maybe it’s not a big deal but I can’t perform either of those feats.
    It’s the spine of any notebook that allows it to lie flat. Piccadilly’s spines tend to break and tear. Luechtturm’s tend to double back and accommodate the open pages. Whitelines have an excellent spine that simply will not give. Ecosysytems have a similar problem, the spine is too massive to allow it flatten out. Is this superior construction or an inability to build in a critical feature? I believe it is not a product design failure but rather a tradeoff considering the realities of manufacturing and pricing a 100% recycled product using American labor on-shore.
    Including the spine, everything about the ecosystems is thick except the lines on the pages. The lines are closely spaced and I have difficulty using every line with a medium-nibbed fountain pen. I counted the lines and compared with a standard Moleskine pocket. Ignoring the top and bottom margins, ecosystems’ notebook has 22 lines in the same space as molie’s 21 lines. Leuchtturm and Piccadilly use exactly the same molie line spacing; Whitelines has only 15 in the same space making it the more comfortable page for my expressive handwriting using an italic fountain pen.
    Every individual leaf is. I like this feature because they crease easily. None of the older pages show any sign of separating so, unless you’re brutal on your notebooks, I see it as a feature. You may disagree.
    The rear pocket is assembled in a fashion that is mechanically simpler and therefore less expensive than any other notebook (except Whitelines which has no pocket). It has a a downscale feel to it but I rarely use the pocket so it doesn’t bother me at all.
    The paper is neither unusual nor special. I do not understand paper grading so I will leave such observations to more technically minded reviewers. I mostly use Sheaffer’s fountain pens (exclusively with Sheaffer’s inks) in my notebooks. I have a fun selection of nibs and ink colors. Violet ink laid down with an extra fine gold nib bleeds through. Deep red ink from a steel medium or italic nib does not. Orange, green, and turquoise inks sometimes show through if applied with a steel nib but not always.
    Go figure.
    I will buy more of the products for two reasons: I like the corporate position and it’s worth supporting; and the quad version and accessories may fill niches in my collection. I won’t know till I try them.

    david boise ID

  13. [...] while back, I wrote a post mentioning Ecosystem notebooks. Someone at Ecosystem actually noticed, and even though I more or less trashed their whole brand [...]

  14. I bought one of these and the elastic broke within a week. i wanted it to carry in my work bag to always have with me for meeting notes and such, but without the elastic that wasn’t possible. I won’t buy another.

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