The Stationery Industry Has Declined Since 2008; This Week Is National Stationery Week - How Much Does Stationery Need Our Support?

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Stationery seems to being going the way of the typewriter industry, yet while the stationery market seems in terminal decline, changes in the industry, new product offerings and a large dependence on the success or failure of the business sector make how this plays out far from a foregone conclusion. While National Stationery Week seeks to promote the written word and all things stationery, online stationery retailer, Zoom Direct, is in a strong position to judge and comment on the prospects for the stationery industry and on whether stationery's days really are truly numbered.

Logo of Zoom Direct Online Stationer
While premium stationery goods find an increasing market, the option of the paperless office has been with us for a long time already with a large environmental lobby attempting to make it a reality.

In recent years it appears as if the stationery industry has taken a step backward – not in a negative sense in being any less useful or losing popularity – but there are an increasing number of brands springing up, as well as established ones, producing more old fashioned, classic designs that hark back to an older age of stationery and reference the old fashioned elegance of stationery and writing implements. This may be surprising given the mass replacement of stationery by computers, tablets and mobile phones - to such an extent that the government has reintroduced handwriting to the national curriculum. The disappearance of stationery and handwriting is seen as such an important issue for UK literacy that the National Literacy Trust has lent its support to National Stationery Week's 'get Britain writing' campaign. This just underlines the extent to which handwriting and the use of stationery appears to have been replaced and the fact that it has long been on the decline; to the extent now that the new generation hardly sees any need for writing or stationery at all!

Quite the opposite of a declining trend brought about by structural and technological changes, as a stationery retailer with contacts in stationery import and wholesale, Zoom Direct sees many areas of the industry growing apace, even in the paper and board stationery market which is most affected by technology. In summary, Zoom Direct sees the market for high end stationery, which is symbolised by brands like Moleskine and Parker, expanding while stagnation or declining sales of value and unbranded stationery may be temporary and not down to structural changes.

The stark statistic is that gross industry revenue has fallen by approximately a third since 2008. The reasons for this are listed by various sources as computerisation and an increasing drive to be environmentally friendly, and this will necessarily be causing some restructuring of the industry both in terms of consolidation and product offering. Critically, the health of the stationery industry is tied to the success or failure of the business sector, and the main areas that have declined in demand have been business forms, paper and envelopes. It is unclear the extent to which falling revenues are attributable to the economic conditions post-financial crisis in 2008 or the technological and environmental trends affecting the industry. How much will stationery rebound with business activity, and to what extent will a shift towards more fashionable products and a push towards the gift sector offset any external trends affecting demand?

The explosion in fashionable luxury stationery items gives reason for optimism that any change in demand for solely practical products is being replaced by a shift towards higher end items. Picture the 1970s office worker surrounded by paper trays, notepads, writing implements and reams of paper, and contrast the image of the modern day 'paperless office'. It wouldn't be surprising if those of us old enough to remember the 'golden age' of stationery hanker for the reintroduction of some of these items into everyday life. A classy notebook, iPad case or leather folder meets that need, and since it is a relatively rare discretionary purchase nowadays it explains the explosion of luxury stationery goods to replace what previously would have been a utilitarian, transactional purchase. While premium stationery goods find an increasing market, the option of the paperless office has been with us for a long time already with a large environmental lobby attempting to make it a reality. Any business which chooses to adopt it will find no end to the range of technological solutions to enable it from interactive whiteboards to projectors attached to iPhones – yet it still largely remains a Jetsons styled vision of the future. Whether users enjoy the tactile aspect and the experience of using stationery, whether it is simply more efficient than technological alternatives at the moment, or whether stationery is simply more economical than technology, still remains an unanswered question. What is clear, however, is that continued negative growth in the stationery market is far from a certainty with structural changes, new product offerings and a pickup in demand from business purchasers to come, playing in its favour.

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Nigel Giles
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