Moleskine Monday: I May Never Buy a New Moleskine Again

I am really quite depressed. I keep poking around in stores, looking at their stock of Moleskines to see if anything’s changed with how they’re making them. At one point several months ago, I’d had a glimmer of optimism that maybe there had just been a blip in their manufacturing rather than an overall decline in quality, but at this point, I no longer think so. I occasionally find an older, slightly dusty Moleskine on the shelf and when I do, I buy it and am so happy to have added to my stash. But I can’t bring myself to buy any of the new ones any more. They’ve obviously made a decision to down-spec their hardcover notebooks and it really shows. The edges are often uneven, the corners stick out, there are big gaps between the cover and spine, and the outer covering isn’t neatly and tightly tucked around the corners of the cover. Sometimes they aren’t quite square, as if they were pushed askew during the binding process. They just feel cheap. They are pretty much indistinguishable now from the Piccadilly notebooks I bought a few years ago for a fraction of the cost. It’s not that the newer Moleskines are always totally unusable, and I’ve found the company to be good about sending a replacement when you complain about a significant defect (though sometimes the replacement is just as bad)… but the problem for me is that they no longer distinguish themselves from other brands in the subtle little ways that they used to. And if they don’t, why should I buy them?

I fell in love with Moleskines because of the thick, smooth paper in the sketchbooks, which no other brand used to have. Even now, I think the Pen & Ink Sketchbook is the only one quite like it. Then I started using the squared paper a lot, which is at least easier to find in other brands. Other Moleskine features aren’t that uncommon now– lots of brands offer ribbon markers, elastic closures, back pockets, etc. For me, the main thing is the corners and the way the spine is bound. Moleskines used to feel more refined, somehow. Just that little extra bit of care in making it a precisely trimmed-off, clean-edged package that didn’t tear at the spine. No one else quite did that, and that was why I’ve always continued to use mostly Moleskines instead of the many other notebooks that were almost as good– regardless of price, regardless of misleading marketing, regardless of the paper not being top-notch, regardless of whether people would think I was a just a trend-follower after they became so popular. I don’t even care if they’re made in China– they always were anyway. I could ignore all that if the notebook felt well-made and looked nice, with those clean, tight edges and corners. Yes, I’m being nit-picky, but these little nit-picky things are the only reason to choose one brand over another– if all I wanted was any old random thing to write in, I’d buy a 99 cent notepad at the supermarket. And if Moleskine hadn’t spoiled me with their former quality, I wouldn’t be complaining that things had changed. What’s frustrating is that the people at Moleskine obviously appreciated these distinctions at one time, and designed their notebooks very specifically around them. Now, they have made a calculated decision that these higher standards aren’t worth the cost. I wonder if the original founders of the company feel just as disheartened as I do, knowing that their brand is slapped on products they would have rejected back in the early days.

I do have other options, even if I haven’t yet found one that suits my personal preferences better than the Moleskines of yore. There are many great notebooks out there, and I hope I will discover many more over the next few years while I exhaust my hoarded stock of old Moleskines.  If Moleskine doesn’t maintain an edge in terms of quality and I have to settle for something slightly less than perfect, then I might just use Piccadilly, or the Pentalic Illustrators Sketchbook, or the Pen & Ink Sketchbook, each of which is almost exactly the same, and cheaper. Piccadilly can have some quality issues, and Pen & Ink’s squared notebooks have darker grid lines than I prefer. I’m actually pretty excited to try the latest iteration of the Pentalic Illustrator’s Sketchbook as they seem to have upgraded their paper from the one I first reviewed, (though it’s still not as thick as the Moleskine Sketchbook paper) and it will be interesting to see how it stands up to everyday use. Though their paper is nice, I don’t like the way Rhodia’s Webnotebooks are constructed (and they tend to be pricey), and while Leuchtturm comes pretty close to my ideal in terms of construction, I hate their taller 90 x 150 cm format. HandBook Artist Journals are great and I’ll continue to use them a lot for sketching, but the paper is not what I want for a daily notebook/journal. There are some other promising brands, but they’re harder to find on store shelves or online, at least in the US. And none of them has quite nailed the exact combination of qualities I’m looking for, because if they did, I’d order them in quantity from wherever, as I now wish I’d done several years ago with Moleskine.

So, ironically, for me, it’s just like the Bruce Chatwin story Moleskine made part of their mythology. He thought those nice little Parisian notebooks would always be available, and when it seemed that they might not be, he tried to buy 100 so he’d never run out. But it was already too late– they told him le vrai moleskine n’est plus, because that little family-owned stationery company had gone out of business. Now there may be a giant multi-national lifestyle company churning out a variety of notebooks and other products that are available wherever gifts and office supplies are sold, but le vrai Moleskine® n’est plus.

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18 Responses to “Moleskine Monday: I May Never Buy a New Moleskine Again”

  1. *sigh I, too, have a Moleskine hoard. When they come out w/ new themes, it makes me want to buy another, like the Hobbit, etc, but I know besides the cover art, it’ll be just like all the others I’ve racked up. I love my Moleskines, but I’ve also gone on to other things. Too bad nothing lasts.

  2. Oh God, I just ordered one (Hobbit). Hope I don’t regret it.

  3. Will this change the title of your Monday posts? Does Moleskine grasp the influence you have with your readers? I have three special edition Moleskines (Pac-Man, Star Wars, and Snoopy) that have yet to be used because others are in line ahed of them, and it will be my first time using one when I get to them. Any unique insights into the special editions?

  4. I will probably still do some Moleskine Monday posts from time to time, as there are lots of examples out there of interesting art, etc, being done in Moleskines, and I will still keep track of their new product introductions. Even if my enthusiasm has waned, I know a lot of people still like them and aren’t quite as bothered by what bothers me. But I will be trying to spend more time on alternative brands.
    I haven’t bought any of their special editions, and from what I’ve seen of the recent ones, all the same quality issues apply.
    I don’t know if I’m on Moleskine’s corporate radar at all, but it would be nice if someone there was listening! :)

  5. It’s a shame that Moleskine’s no longer producing the notebooks you want to buy, but I hope you find another journal you’ll like just as much!

  6. Manufacturing companies understand cost ratios. Their marketing people are driven only by growth numbers which means creating new or exploiting old and tired markets in new ways. Creating a demand for a product among new users is far more expensive and difficult than simply maintaining an existing customer. Brand-consciousness is often illusory and fleeting. You must respect Molie’s brilliance in reducing costs, increasing sales and fabricating a totally unwarranted and fictitious brand. These people own their market.

    Like fountain pen users, the discriminating paper consumer is simply not a valuable market for Moleskine. They don’t care. They don’t have to. We move on.

    I have a large cache of Piccies that I purchased ten years ago for about $1.50/unit but they are distinctly lower quality than what Piccie is selling these days for $4.00, 6.00 and 9.00. There’s an interesting story you might be able to pursue, Nifty: The Piccadilly line of molie clones, “Essential” notebooks, has expanded into colored covers and special editions. They’re going after the edges of the molie-istas and are apparently succedding.

  7. I knew it was time to stop buying Moleskines when I saw them being sold in my local Clinton Cards store. They must have been cheapened for Clinton to buy stock.

  8. *tear*

  9. only after that I compared my old vs current soft back large ruled notebook. Now I can see the difference in paper quality (more ‘oily’ and smooth, not sure if that contributes towards the bleeding or I just have been using different pens); but the stitching is definitely different. The old one – the centre stays smooth and flat; the newer one, you can open up and see/feel you are tearing the glued bit apart. :-( Feel ripped off now :(

  10. What a shame you’re seeing quality issues in the new ones.

    I have used Moleskine ever since 2006/2007 and the brand and quality has changed a little that I’ve noticed too. I used them as my primary journal up until 2013, and mostly stopped just out of boredom with the same style notebook.

    I have a pretty good supply of older Moleskines, some from 2007, so I plan to eventually use them. I’m tempted to go to a bookstore and get a new Moleskine to compare new versus old. Moleskines have always felt more “refined” with thicker covers, better elastic, and sturdier pockets than Piccadilly to me. Moleskine covers now have a cover hang? Eeck!

  11. I am in the same boat. I had found the Piccadilly notebooks to be a good substitute. The right price for that simple daily notebook but I was even having trouble finding them in retail stores. Last week I found a stack of Piccadilly journals buried in the back of a B&N, well away from the epic Moleskine display. But for $6, it was worth the dig!

  12. I so so so sooo agree with every point you made. I have the same issues with the quality (even my most mangled ones from 2000-2005 are so soooo much nicer, even though they too played poorly with fountain pens.)

    For me it’s ruled paper. And the Rhodia Webbies make my skin crawl. The cover material physically is painful for me to touch and hold. I was SO disappointed (plus it’s not a true hardback)…And the Leuchtterm size. Yep Yep yep.

    My nice, tight, consistent yearly journal shelf of Moleskines starts going all over the place at about 2010 when I finally *had it* and started branching out. It makes me sad, but for something I carry and use daily, it was worth it to me to have something functional that held up versus looking uniform on the shelf.

    I’m curious what you’re referring to when you said:
    “There are some other promising brands, but they’re harder to find on store shelves or online, at least in the US.”

    I am always in the market to try new notebooks and despite trawling your site extensively in Dec when shopping for this year’s journal I’m not firm on what you may be referring to.

    (if wondering, I settled on a mini black filigree Paperblanks journal with elastic closure -lined cream pages- for this year. The size is a bit squattier, and it’s of course fancier, but I like it quite well so far. It’s a bit too done up, I usually like to decorate it myself, but there’s always cromprimise it seems.)

  13. I started writing in my first Moleskine book recently and am anxious to get it filled and get to the Black n’ Red notebook that is waiting. I bought a 3-pack of the Moleskines and I don’t have any idea what I will do with the other two.

  14. I went to Piccadilly Journals and use them liberally. Moleskine just could not handle my fountain pens and also, once I tried a Piccadilly, the paper was consistently better, and the journals cheaper, than Moleskine. Thus, I’ve been done for months now.

  15. It’s unfortunate that the Leuchtturm doesn’t work for you. I think their quality is fantastic for the price.

  16. I gave up Moleskines nearly two years ago – for the reasons you cited. Since then I’ve been using Quo Vadis’ Artist Series notebooks for my journals. The paper quality is superb for fountain pens, gels, even pencil (HBs)

  17. I just started my first Moleskine and am feeling very much let-down by the quality. I am completely blown away by how unbelievably thin the pages are! Shoddy covers or binding wouldn’t really faze me so much, but when I get show-through from a BALLPOINT PEN, that’s the deal-breaker. Shame.

    I also really hate that the front cover lists “as a reward: $____” because! while I’ve always listed my contact info and planned to reward anyone returning a lost journal to me, it seems now that if I don’t list an amount generous enough, I may never get it back. They (Moleskine) probably thought it would incentivize notebook returns, but by turning it into an outright transaction, it makes it so that the returner is only obligated by money (as opposed to goodwill) and if the price doesn’t match the effort, why bother? Plus I don’t want to put a dollar amount on my thoughts and secrets, you know?

  18. I bought a standard moleskine unruled notebook maybe 2 years ago for drawing and the paper in that is so beautiful. Its nice and thick, the paper used for the flyleafs is used throughout. Its even thick enough to paint on both sides of without impacting quality of either painting.

    I bought a pocket and large plain notebook in the hobbit edition and the paper in them is such a disappointment. Its so thin, I don’t think I’d even draw on both sides of a page, nevermind bringing paint anywhere near it. I think the cheap A4 art books you get in newsagents and department stores is better quality.

    If you have one of the new moleskines and you want to know what you’re missing out on, feel the paper used for the flyleafs. Thats what the paper was like in the older moleskines.
    The only (possible) positive is there seem to be more pages in the notebook since the paper is thinner

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