It’s been quite sad to notice the decline of the paper planner in recent years. Over the past few years as ‘back to work/back to school’ organiser campaigns have started, the Filofax selection has shrunk dramatically. Mulberry has discontinued its larger planners and stopped making most of its inserts. Instead there are more and more iPad and iPhone holders. The Filofax insert selection which was already not very broad, has shrivelled further. There is almost nothing for A5. Hard to believe that there were once around 1,000 different inserts for Filofaxes.
I was an early devotee of the PDA – I started out with a Casio, then two Psions followed by at least four Palm Pilots. The last digital assistants I had were two Palm Life Drives. Suddenly phone and PDAs were combined and you had a good phone with a bad planner or a good planner with a bad phone (like the Palm Treo, which succeeded the Life Drive). And I suffered several system failures where both my PDA and my computer backup were wiped out. So I switched back to paper.
I have always kept a journal and I find that writing on paper is relaxing, soothing, immediate and permanent. I love the action of writing on paper, with no tapping or waiting for apps to load. No searching for WiFi or waiting for an internet connection before I can see my calendar. No finger trouble if I hit the wrong button. Writing things down gives me security and peace. Mostly I have used A5 Filofaxes but I also use Gillio, Mulberry, Aspinal and Smythson. Along the line I have also used Moleskine, Paperblanks, and what seems like a gazillion other planners but I always come back to ringbinder systems because they are so customisable. Mainly Filofax because their inserts used to be so good. Unfortunately that is not always the case anymore.
Somewhere along the line, Filofax seems to have lost its core market. It has stopped developing effective and efficient paper time management systems in favour of forays into high fashion (collaberation with Temperley) and exotic hides (crocodile binders at about £1500). Personally if I were going to pay a whack for designer organisers I would go Smythson or Aspinal who have stunning skin and lovely paper. Not sure if Filofax know where they are going. Like Marks and Spencer they seem to have deserted their core market without attracting any particular demographic to replace them. Sadly, the quality of their workmanship has not increased with their pricey new binders – dodgy ring mechanisms seem to blight the Temperleys as much as they do the Metropols.
The news is not all bad though. I have noticed more and more people hovering around the Filofax displays. Earlier this year several stationery outlets told me they had seriously underestimated the demand for paper planners, which sold out completely. My daughter has mentioned that increasing numbers of students at her university use Filofaxes for their studies. Facebook groups devoted to paper planners are springing up like mushrooms. Filofax itself seems to be listening more and more to its users. The Original, although I am not a fan of the design, is a good solid binder at a decent price and is made in England.
And a trip to Smythsons is always heartening. There is a world out there for handwritten thank you cards, personal stationery and fantastic paper. There seems to be snob value in writing thank you notes by hand on eyewateringly expensive paper. Hopefully that trend will trickle downwards and start a move towards paper and pens again. A little off topic I have noted in my job as a teacher that people these days are often unable and unused to writing by hand. What a pity.
And for Filofax fans, communities like Philofaxy and Plannerisms show that there is a core of ardent planner enthusiasts. Philofaxy and My Life All In One Place have downloadable printable refills for Filofaxes, filling a huge gap in the market. And the community is thriving. Blogs and Facebook groups about the humble ring binder abound. The number of search results on a search for ‘Filofax’ on Instagram or YouTube would surprise most people. More and more people seem to be drawn to communities like these as the wider world and brands like Filofax seem to have forgotten them. And instead of waiting and hoping for Filofax to listen, they are taking things into their own hands and doing it themselves. In turn, Filofax itself seems to have realised the clout these groups have and are listening and developing things more in line with their users than they used to.
Other communities like the Fountain Pen Network forum and the Vintage Filofax Facebook group (where you can follow the very active collectibility of vintage filofaxes) show that these things are still very much alive – just perhaps under the ‘big business’ radar. Filofax fans travel across countries to meet and talk planners. They create inserts and trade and buy or sell binders.
As we head to the end of one year and the beginning of another I find myself wondering what the future holds for the paper planner? Who knows, but for the first time in a long time I feel that it could be something exciting!