Why I Don’t Use Moleskine

My old Moleskines

My -old- Moleskines

I’ve got a cultural bone to pick with Moleskine.

Most people who criticize Moleskine notebooks complain about the price– i.e., why pay $10 or $14 for a notebook when a less expensive one would do just fine? But I believe that good books deserve to be paid for, and a good notebook or journal can be worth far more than $14.

The fact is, the Moleskine notebook really hasn’t been criticized much at all. When it has, the discussions that result are totally flimsy, ranging from halfhearted acknowledgment to open disrespect (this thread and this thread are good examples). Here are a few excerpts from those posts that “argue” in defense of the Moleskine:

  • the M is the mighty M because it just is”
  • “The point of marketing is to sell, I don’t see the point in critizing that. I can’t say exactly why I use Moleskines, they’ve got a certain charm.”
  • “Who are these critics anyway? They’re probably people who don’t even draw or write.”
  • “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Moleskine ‘critic.'”
  • “…you just don’t get it”

Needless to say, it’s ironic that most people can’t articulate the mysterious quality that makes their journal so unique. I would expect notebook users to be better with words. Perhaps the word they’re looking for is “legendary” –but they would only have to look at the label to figure that out. However, my critique of the Moleskine has little to do with its price, or even the quality. It has to do with the cultural space that Moleskine notebooks occupy, and what they represent. In fact, I think they’re a perfect metaphor for my generation’s passivity and hollow creative sensibilities.

The Basics:

Look, I hate to break the news, but neither Hemingway nor Chatwin used this notebook. The company began in 1996, and is Italian, not French. But that actually isn’t new information; We-The-Consumers are totally aware of Moleskine’s marketing techniques, and yet we continue to purchase their product. In 2006, the company began to manufacture their notebooks in China, contributing to economic inequality and unhealthy environmental standards. Strike two?

But instead of caring where our products come from, and what damage was caused along the way; instead of making a conscious decision to use a product from a more genuine or local source; we (i.e. the journalers) adamantly refuse to care.

…and our defense is: “it has a certain something” ..?

Pop Art

I would also argue that the Moleskine (like many other arts-related trends) has decreased artistic diversity. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy visiting Moleskine forums, the flickr pools and blogs, but after a while I can’t help but notice that many of the posts began to look sort of similar. Even the subject matter of people’s journal entries began to replicate itself: sketches of girls with deer antlers, owls, paragraphs written in Napoleon Dynamite-esque bubble letters, …etc. Shouldn’t journals be an expression of your inner unique thoughts?

I fully support an individual’s right to choose the supplies that make her or him most comfortable to write and create. And I won’t lie– I do love good a good fountain pen. Yeah, a blank page turns me on a little. But when I browse Moleskine forums, instead of being inspired by the array of artistic diversity, I come away feeling the desire to write and draw just like all the posts I just read. Basically, I want to copy them instead of trying something different.

Honestly, I think my paper journaling vision is at its most unique when I give up the internet for a little while.

A Journaler’s DIY Manifesto

Thus ends my critique, for the moment, because I’d rather discuss my personal alternative. After deciding that I would no longer use Moleskine notebooks, I began to make my own books. Which, compared to the social angst of the Moleskine world, felt like– Ahhh, yes! I love having complete control over the size of my journal, the binding, the type of paper, the cover. My design choices are infinite.

People talk about the tactile quality of the Moleskine, but there’s nothing so tactile as choosing the perfect buttery paper, or stitching the binding together yourself. For Moleskine enthusiasts who have gotten to the point of developing “hacks” for their notebooks, I would highly recommend just developing the entire book themselves. It’s totally ridiculous to spend so much effort altering a Moleskine when it’s possible to construct the ideal notebook from the ground up (for less money, I might add).

Binding my own books also means that I decide where my money goes, and what it supports. I have lovely conversations with the owners of quiet little paper shops, and I use my money to help preserve locally owned art supply stores. I can use recycled materials (an excuse to go dumpster diving!). Even at this early phase, I’m doing more than journaling; I’m discovering friendships, asking advice from book artists, being inspired. And that’s just the point– journaling is a process, not a one-time Barnes & Nobles purchase. A book is somehow more intimate when you remember when it was just a pile of paper and thread. It’s sort of like planting a garden. ..and then scribbling all over the flowers.

The beginnings of a new journal

The beginnings of a new journal


15 Responses to “Why I Don’t Use Moleskine”

  1. 1 BigSockTramp February 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Yes!! Thanks for verbalizing some of my thoughts on the subject. Cheers!

    I found your blog through the LJ handmadebooks community. (My LJ is BigSockGrrl.)

  2. 2 Bill Smith November 19, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Interesting piece, I have a few Moleskines left over prior to the switchover to Chinese production and when they are done, I am not buying anymore.

    I would make a suggestion, try out Whitelines from Sweden. I have been using that paper line for everyday notebooks for over a year and a half and I love the paper they use, very fountain pen friendly.

  3. 3 drwlgdf November 22, 2009 at 3:58 am

    Hear hear. Think people are desensitized. Even I am starting to feel it. I just look past the marketing mumbo jumbo and cynical trademarking and see it for what it is without thinking twice about it even though the mumbo jumbo should still matter in what it is getting at, I am sure that some buy into it as well on a shallow level. It was different when I was only a little younger, there would have been no shadow of a doubt that it was a mockery of all things true, and alarmingly, I’m only 24 years old.. The world is going down the drain. I think a lot of people have the right idea though, that it is just a notebook, and that it lies flat (I think that and the handy format, nor too large nor too small, is the reason why people “cant put their fingers on whats sooooo special about it”). But even then like you say it has been outsourced (which can be a more complex issue, but still), and another issue is the varying quality which makes it even more cynical for the prices they are asking.

    Also you know that you’re gifted right? Loved your floral watercolors, and your anatomical doodles are not bad either. Keep at it!

  4. 4 Cole November 25, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve been wanting to try out Whitelines. They seem like they’d be great for note taking, especially for someone who likes to doodle a lot in her notes…

  5. 5 Cole November 25, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Thanks very much for the compliments! I think the world’s only going down the drain if the creative visionaries keep quiet 🙂

    Getting away from Moleskine is a way to reconnect with a different creativity, a more basic creativity. It’s very refreshing, isn’t it?

  6. 6 drwlgdf December 8, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Definitely, I would love and often think about getting into making my own sketch books – if nothing else I’ll be forced to as I wont pay the 30 bucks required to get the right kind of paper in the form of Paperblanks no more! They’re produced in China as well. Apparently from sustainable forest paper, but that doesen’t bear much face value..

    I just need to find some resource explaining coptic binding.

  7. 7 darius December 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    i have used moleskine in the past. but die to its cost i have shifted to yeah notebooks. it is also made in china just like moleskine. and with similar craftmanship and design (and also made in china), why buy expensive when you can buy cheap with the same quality

  8. 8 laz December 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    everything is made in china nowadays.moleskine’s no diffrent. why buy…i would just go with anything as good and cheap

  9. 9 josilv October 26, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Instead of spending the money on Moleskine, shop around for something similar and sink your money into it, just be aware of its provenance. Yes, it’s really being anti-China but if you realize what they are slowly doing to us you will see the logic in trying(?) to avoid buying anything made there

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