Paper makes a comeback: the 200-year Collins tale

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Around this time of year some of us, probably of a certain age, like to browse through one of the big stationery shops in our vicinity, be it the ubiquitous ‘Officeworks’, in Australian cities, or the more interesting craft-orientated paper and bookstores in upmarket suburbs. We want to choose our next year’s diary, which still helps us organise our lives.

In my case, shunning cheap jibes from younger friends as to my luddite nature, I usually go for a one-day per page Collins diary. While it is relatively heavy, it allows me ample space for my intra-day notes. As a journalist, I keep the diaries for several years in case some annoying potential defamation claim pops up.

I have often worried, though, about the financial future for Collins and other diary publishers in a digital world. I need not have, it seems. Collins, and some other interesting paper-based product producers, such as the Moleskin folk, are doing very well. Collins Debden, the corporate brand, this year celebrated its 200th anniversary – for many of those years having an Australian presence back to the mid-19th century. It was started in Glasgow in 1819 and its UK office is still based there. Its chief executive officer, Connie Chan, is based in Singapore, though, and the company is listed there under its holding company name of Nippecraft Management.

Chan is upbeat about the company’s and the stationery industry’s future. For starters, Collins Debden is expanding into North America for the first time. Apparently, there are lots of 65-year old journalists there for whom diaries are an important part of their lives, as they should be. More importantly for Collins’ future, younger people are also developing a fondness for stationery, including diaries. They may use a digital diary on their phone, but they will increasingly tend to keep a more personal paper one too. Typing ‘Dear Diary’ into your phone does seem a bit silly. Chan says, in all honesty, that the stationery business is “neither dying nor thriving”.

It’s like a lot of other consumer markets. Younger people who are looking for something a bit different, as younger people often do, represent a growing customer base.

She says: “It sits between the professional world and the personal world. And I think it’s getting more personal. What we find is that people are looking for more ‘notes’ [blank]pages in the diaries… This means they are looking to write personal thoughts.”

From a business point of view, Chan is seeing strong growth in the premium end of the market. There is a polarisation occurring between the cheap end and the more expensive end. And people still want to write long hand. Not just type, and certainly not into a phone.

“We don’t believe that in 20 years’ time, say, that people will have stopped writing… People write differently when they are writing on paper, rather than digitally. With paper, it is easier to lay out thoughts and ideas flow better. They tend to see more value in what they are doing… People actually think and remember better when they are writing on paper.”

It should be noted that Collins Debden is doing its bit for the planet too. All Collins Debden paper is sourced sustainably from regenerating forests. So, here’s to the next 200 years – if that’s not too big a suggestion – for Collins diaries.

– G.B.

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