Brand Blogger Q&A: Moleskinerie, Positive Fanatics, and Notebookism

Posted by Rob Walker on September 25, 2006
Posted Under: Blogging The Brand,Fandom,Murketing,Q&A

It’s time now for the second in our series of interviews with brand bloggers. Our gracious subject today is Armand Frasco, who presides over three interesting blogs: Moleskinerie (focused on Moleskine notebooks); Notebookism (on notebooks in general); and Positive Fanatics (on Ikea). Here goes…

We first spoke some time back, when I was writing about Moleskine (for Consumed, June 24, 2005), and came upon your site. When did you launch this blog, and why? And how has it changed since then?

Moleskinerie was launched in January 2001 on a whim, just out of curiosity and to find out who else was using the notebook. It turns out the answer is, a lot. Last year, Kikkerland Design, Moleskine’s U.S. distributor reported sales of more than 4 million units. Moleskinerie has since become the number one fan site for the product, with readers coming from as far as South Africa, Mongolia, Malaysia –- even Patagonia.

Lately you’ve started a newer site, called Notebookism. What’s that one all about, and why did you start it?

I initiated Notebookism last July in response to many requests for a non product-centric blank-book blog. With hundreds of brands and legions of aficionados out there we’ve just uncovered the tip of the journaling iceberg. Many Moleskine users also own other kinds of notebooks so Notebookism is just an extension of their paper playground. We are lucky to have the Blick Art Company as our founding sponsor.

What’s the big news around Moleskine these days, and how does it affect these two projects, if it all?

The biggest news to rock the otherwise tranquil world of Moleskine users was the recent acquisition of the brand by Société Générale Capital, a French investment group. We still have not heard officially from them, but Modo & Modo in Milan has sent reassurances that quality remains the utmost concern. It should well be –- recent complaints about quality have caused a stir among users. Adding to the confusion were reports that the product may have been produced in China all along (previous labels supposedly indicated them as “Hand finished in Italy”). Modo & Modo, which apparently is still running the operations, sent out a chummy open letter that addressed all the aforementioned and promised to continue the conversation with its customers. That soothed frayed nerves.

Despite these issues Moleskine has soared to number 5 in Saatchi & Saatchi’s LoveMarks Top 200 World Brands list. The companies involved (Modo & Modo and Kikkerland Design, Inc.) are understandably occupied with the transition so I’m not hearing from them as often as before. We just hope that they will continue supporting the community. As with any product, this saga continues.

You’re not hearing from them as often as before — but what’s your relationship been with them in the past?

Moleskinerie and Modo & Modo have had a very cordial relationship and I regularly keep in touch via email and occasional phone conversations. They and Kikkerland Design, Inc., the U.S. Moleskine distributor, have supported us with samples and advertising in the past couple of years. I hope the new owners, Société Générale Capital will recognize our contributions in spreading the word about their brand and continue their support.

Also since then, you started a site related to Ikea. What’s the back story on that one?

Much like Moleskinerie, Positive Fanatics is a blogumentary of this houseware-retailing phenomenon. It’s named after founder Ingvar Kamprad’s exhortation for its employees to be “positive fanatics who stubbornly and persistently refuse to accept the impossible, the negative.”

Why so many blogs?!?

Call me a “serial blogger.” But I have definitely come to the point where these “hobbies” will have to pay for themselves and I have made progress in that direction.

How are the readerships of the blogs different, particularly Moleskine vs. Ikea?

Many readers of Positive Fanatics are female, most are students and new homemakers. This is a very unscientific assumption, but given the choice they’d probably purchase home furnishing rather than stationery. Moleskinerie regulars run the gamut from high school kids scrawling on their Kraft board-covered cahiers in rock concerts, to explorers precariously perched on ice floes, to retirees writing down their memoirs in balmy climes. Much like iPod owners, they tend to recognize each other’s presence by a gesture somebody has dubbed a “Moleskine nod.”

Positive Fanatics has not really been promoted as much as I wish, mainly due to time constraints and lack of resources. Consequently its three-digit daily traffic pales in comparison to the 5000 or so daily visitors at Moleskinerie. Other unofficial IKEA blogs are thriving though — like IKEA Fans, an encyclopedic forum of assembly techniques and tips, and Jen Segrest’s OH!IKEA, which literally (and successfully) petitioned the company into opening a store in Ohio. The newest kid on the block is IKEA Hacker, which could become very popular (and profitable). All are friends of mine and I wish them well.

Have you heard from anyone at Ikea about Positive Fanatics?

Yes, I have heard from their public relations people and they have accommodated our requests, which are mostly interviews and clearance to photograph within their premises. Samantha Gravina, PR for Chicago’s Schaumburg and Bolingbrook stores, once gave me a tour through the “bat cave,” basically their “co-workers” lounge and other parts of the building that the public rarely sees. She also gave me an interview about IKEA’s corporate philosophies, etc. Very enlightening. As to sponsorship or any support, Positive Fanatics is not getting any from the company at this time.

Aside from the other Ikea and notebook sites mentioned above, do you follow any of the other brand-specific blogs?

For the most part I really don’t. Instead I search for individual products and terms which could indicate a yet undiscovered niche. The only exception is iLounge. I think it’s one of the best product blogs there is. And I don’t even own a functioning iPod!

Any final thoughts on your blogs, and why you do it?

Recent concerns about the product have required me to spend much more time maintaining Moleskinerie and that has become a personal challenge. Otherwise, blogging and, in my case, product blogging has taught me a lot of important lessons, but most invaluable are the many friends I have made around the world simply because of our affinity for a black-covered notebook and genuine interest in each other’s culture. If they dropped Moleskine instead of bombs, I believe this would be a more peaceful world.

After your interview for The New York Times Magazine last summer, a friend commented that it could change my life and in many aspects, and in mostly pleasant ways. But as many have learned, blogging can be lonely too, so I say this in closing as I always exhort my readers at the end of the week, “Get out! Have a life — and write about it.”

Murketing offers sincere thanks to Armand Frasco. Read the first installment of the brand blogger series, a Q&A with the proprieter of a Whole Foods-focused blog, here.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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