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Paper on paper: FiftyThree and Moleskine partner to print your digital journals

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'Book' bridges the gap between analog and digital

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fiftythree moleskine book
fiftythree moleskine book

When FiftyThree CEO Georg Petschnigg first debuted Paper for iPad to the world, it was the first time an app had come close to emulating the emotional resonance of Moleskine, everyone’s favorite journal brand. Paper was a digital translation of a timeless and real object, but also a new medium with its own benefits. Whereas each Moleskine has a beginning and an end, a journal in Paper can go on forever. Paper made it simple to erase, redo, and retouch sketches and writings you would’ve otherwise made permanent using a pen and notebook page. The app is unapologetically digital in nature, but today, FiftyThree is making a move into the analog world for the first time.

FiftyThree and Moleskine are today introducing Book, a printed Moleskine notebook you can create using Paper for $40.00. Each Book is a spread of 15 of your favorite Paper pages glued together to create an accordion effect for panoramas, or just for showing several pages of your work at once. The notebook format was created by Moleskine exclusively for FiftyThree, and when opened matches the iPad’s 4 x 3 aspect ratio. You can choose colors for the book’s spine and back, draw a cover, or go with the classic black Moleskine leatherette finish. But perhaps most importantly, each Book is a finished product, unlike any Paper journal. It’s "a moment frozen in time," as FiftyThree designer Becky Brown says.

Each book is "a moment frozen in time"

"The breakthrough for Moleskine was the idea that it was a book to be written," says Petschnigg, who has always been drawn to the famed notebook brand. He led the Courier project at Microsoft in an effort to build a uniquely digital counterpart for the 21st century, but that program was scrapped. Paper is Courier’s spiritual successor, a digital notebook that still feels authentic and tangible. Yet, Paper’s utility has in some ways felt bound by the limits of the iPad’s screen. Emailing a PDF of sketches from your last vacation doesn't feel very personal.

FiftyThree devised a variety of ways to share your work online, but something was missing. At work, FiftyThree team members frequently printed out sketches and mind-maps using a massive Epson SureColor T7000 printer, or simply tore pages out of their own Moleskine notebooks. "Allowing someone who uses Paper to put ideas in a different environment lets them think about their ideas differently," says Brown. The company is hoping that with Book, digital pages committed to paper will afford its readers a new perspective.

Since each Book is printed at nearly double the PPI of an iPad mini’s screen, you might even find a new degree of clarity in your work

Petschnigg flirted with Moleskine for years, but one year ago finally drew up a partnership proposal. After working with Evernote on its first line of "smart" notebooks, Moleskine digital lead Peter Jensen felt comfortable taking on another daring project. He and Petschnigg decided to create a "notebook" in a hybrid digital and analog form factor — new territory for the both of them. Moleskine notebooks are private, by definition, while Books might often be placed on coffee tables or gifted to a friend. Most of the world prints to 8.5 x 11 inch paper, Petschnigg says, but no display or digital apparatus shares the same size. In a way, it’s been impossible to reproduce your digital notebooks in real life. Since each Book is printed at nearly double the PPI of an iPad mini’s screen, you might even find a new degree of clarity in your work.

While tablet computers have traditionally been touted as proof that "paper is dead," Moleskine and FiftyThree have created an interesting symbiosis in partnering on Book. "When I worked for Lego, I heard about a company memo in 1972 that said when Atari came out it might kill us, but years later we looked at kids and they were playing Star Wars video games and then building [ships] with Legos," says Jensen. "Ultimately, there is a value to a physical manifestation." At least for now, the market of creatives buying Moleskines confirms his suspicions. "We’ve done research and found that people who are digitally savvy and buy smartphones or tablets are more likely to buy Moleskines than people that don’t," he says. "Creativity is not bound to the one domain."

"People who are digitally savvy are more likely to buy Moleskines"

Petschnigg wraps and unwraps the trademark Moleskine elastic band on each Book he shows me. "I lead a super digital life," he says. "There isn’t much that I surround myself with." In a world where apps don’t always last forever, he seems to say that there’s some comfort in printing your work and knowing it’s not going to disappear during your next iOS update. Petschnigg’s apartment, the former home of FiftyThree, is sparsely decorated aside from a shiny espresso machine and a giant rack filled with books along one wall. One book is filled with the work of his grandfather Hubert Petschnigg, an architect who played a pivotal role in the rebuilding of Germany. "How do you make your digital presence more concrete?" he asks. Petschnigg hasn’t yet erected any buildings of his own, but he’d argue that giving digital creators the tools to do so is just as important.