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Moleskine's CEO on paper's advantages (and how to pronounce Moleskine)

Arrigo Berni with a Moleskine drawing.

In a day of big tech news, it can be difficult sometimes to pull back from the touchscreens and keypads to focus on something more tactile.

Something like paper.

Or paper notebooks. The distinctive black-bound ones made by Moleskine to be exact. You wouldn’t think they’d do well against an iPad. But you’d be wrong. The Moleskine notebook has history on its side.

“The product and the Moleskine story really go way back, toward the end of the 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s. A group of artists and literati, mostly based in Paris, started using this notebooks,” says Arrigo Berni, the company’s CEO. “But the product then disappeared toward the second half of the 1900s, around 1980.”

Moleskine notebooks, in their current iteration, are made by a company formed in the mid-'90s in Italy. The company launched their IPO earlier this year, on April 3. But unlike the Apples and the Facebooks of the world, the company chose to debut on the Italian stock market, despite the country’s troubled economy.

“As an Italian citizen, on a personal level, I am worried. As the head of a global company that kind of happens to be based in Italy, I’m taking a more global view,” he says. Italy accounts for less than 10 percent of the company’s sales.

Berni attributes the company’s success to the very thing some could see as a disadvantage.

“There are certain dimensions of our life where digital technology is definitely providing a benefit, an advantage, to us," he says, "but there are other dimensions, maybe closer to what human beings are and the physical experience of interacting with physical products. The emotional dimension ‘where technology is at a disadvantage in fact, compared to paper.”

Arrigo Berni on how to pronounce "Moleskine"

“We want people to feel free to say the name the way they want. Having said that, “moleskin” as a word is originally an English word. So the English pronunciation is ‘Mole-skin.’ But then you know, it was moved to France and over there, an ‘e’ was added and the French pronunciation is ‘mol-ey-skine.’”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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