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Paper Tigers

paper tiger The paper business is thriving in the digital era by re-positioning itself as a luxury product. As reported by Katherine Rosman in The Wall Street Journal (3/8/14), the insight is that "heavy users of digital products" also tend to like high-end paper. "Far from perceiving these two dimensions — the analog and the digital — as separate and opposite, they see them as a continuum," says Arrigo Berni, chief executive of Moleskine, the notebook maker. The link for Moleskine is an app that lets users "read and search photographs" of their pen-and paper notes.

Mohawk Fine Papers, founded some 83 years ago, is also finding profits in the digital-paper connection. "We decided to beta test how digital printed photo cards would look with our Mohawk Superfine," says Mohawk’s Christopher M. Harrold. So, Mohawk launched Pinhole Press "to experiment with personalized stationery and greeting cards." The response was so positive that Shutterfly, Minted, Moo and other digital printing companies were persuaded to buy Mohawk’s fancier paper.

As Richard Moross of Moo points out, "the more cheap and easy uses of technology permeate our culture … the more valuable are the moments of real-world interaction." Mohawk’s shift "from commodity to keepsake, supplying high-quality paper in a market ‘where paper really matters to people’ … and where margins are as high as 40%" has indeed paid off in a big way: "In 1998, sales of paper to digital companies comprised $10 million revenue … In 2012, sales to digital customers reached $100 million … about 40% of company revenue."