Demise of the Paper Planner – fact or fiction?

Photo by Susanna, taken at a Filofax meet up
Photo by Susanna

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!

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

13 thoughts

  1. I love my Filofax planner and would be lost without it. Paper planners I feel too are making a comeback. But agree with your comments about paper quality and rings as well.

  2. Excellent post echos what I have been thinking I have sold a lot of my Filofaxes recently but I have kept 2 back as my back up to the tech I use.

  3. I’m a tech nerd.. It wasn’t until I got a Filofax that I actaully started gettting my ish together. There’s something about writing things down on attractive paper with purple and pink pens that makes things stick. I’ve always been a paper nerd. I wish I knew about ring bound planners sooner. I probably could of had a Crock Skin Filofax with all my bound planner fail $$

  4. I’m supposed to be a part of the tech-savvy generation (I’m 21), but will opt for my Filofax over tapping away at some silly machine any day. My Filo doesn’t crash; I can find the exact page I want almost instantly; and, best of all, I can decide exactly when and how I’m going to use it. Long live the paper planner!

  5. I had two Psions and I loved them! I’ve used Filofaxes on and off for years, and always bought them, even when I wasn’t directly using them. Don’t even ask how many I have! I’m now firmly back with paper and pen, and feeling much happier.

  6. OMG it figures!! A5 Mia in gold will be here on Friday and Ive always wanted the buttercup ostrich!!!! LoL!!

    1. The one on the bottom is an A5 Gillio Mia Cara in Epoca Gold and the one second from the top is a personal sized Filofax ostrich in Buttercup. Fantastically enough you have picked my two favourite binders!

  7. I live in a small country town in South Australia and I know of no one else who uses a Filofax. Not one of the stationers stocks any supplies, so I have to buy everything I want and need from either Filofax UK or from Pens & Leather in the USA. Why not Filofax Australia? Simple it’s cheaper to buy and pay postage from the USA or the UK than it is to buy in Australia. Sad – but true. But I use both, I have a Scanda and a Samsung Galaxy SII. I sync my Filofax to my phone using Samsung Kies. I sort of have the best of both worlds. Oh yes, I also went through the Palm Pilot stage..

  8. I have been a Franklin Covey user since 1993 and the same thing has happened to them. They have severely reduced their supply of planners and refills in favor of totes and training. I’ve been looking for a new binder for years but haven’t been able to find one I liked. And I’ve started making my own daily pages. Very sad. And like you pointed out, there are still a lot of people using paper and people coming back to paper every day!

Leave a Reply