There is a strange thing happening on gift lists this year. Among all the digital items, bound datebooks, diaries and notebooks are making a comeback.
As a bit of proof: Liberty, the luxury department store in London that has a roomful of datebooks and notebooks on an upper floor as well as online sales, has seen a 22 percent increase in sales of the products in the past 18 months, according to Calum Wild, the store’s 28-year-old stationery buyer.
At the turn of the millennium, the market was stagnating. But according to the research company Business Research Insights, the global datebook and software planner sector is expected to hit $1.3 billion by 2028, from $1.02 billion in 2022.
The renaissance, Mr. Wild said, is being driven by the pandemic and the political, economic and digital turmoil that followed. “Our natural instinct when there is so much change is to seek comfort and solitude in something that we know, that is tactile and sort of gives us a personal connection,” he said.
Heritage market companies like Smythson, a London stationer, are facing stiff competition from global luxury lifestyle brands like Dior and Cartier, whose notebooks are a less expensive way of leaning into the brand than a handbag or dress, said Elwira Costello, a senior director at the market research company Savanta. For example, the Dior 72-page hardcover notebook (with a butterfly motif borrowed from its Cruise collection shown in Mexico City this summer) is priced at $75.
And Gen Zers in their 20s and young Millennials are now the big buyers of bound datebooks, using them, Mr. Wild said, “much more as a lifestyle tracker” or self-care journal than as places to record appointments.
Simon Burstein, former chief executive of the influential Browns boutique in London, capitalized on this shift this year by building a 7,500-square-foot book bindery in Canvey Island, a town in the English county of Essex.
He moved his business — Canvey Island Bindery Company, which he established in 2014 — and its 25 employees into the new plant, and now is operating both as Charfleet Book Bindery.
During a recent visit to the bindery, Kim Skedge, who cuts the leathers for the covers, said that making datebooks and notebooks could be tricky. “We have to get the cut right in the leather and follow its pattern,” she said, “so the book I’m going to deliver has a pattern on it and doesn’t look skew-whiff,” using slang for askew.
Extra pages also are needed in datebooks and notebooks today, Mr. Burstein said, as customers want “a little bit more than lined pages.” Case in point: An email address page and a page to list passwords are bound into one of the gold foil accented Charfleet notebooks.
The bindery is not Mr. Burstein’s first venture into stationery. In the 1980s, while he was a vice president of the French fashion label Sonia Rykiel, he also was the distributor in France for Filofax, the personal organizer wildly popular among young urban professionals at the time.
The new Charfleet bindery is expected to produce 70,000 datebooks and 20,000 notebooks a year, as well as calendars, Mr. Burstein said. They are sold under the Charfleet name and six other book brands, and as what retailers call white label: products that businesses can rebrand as their own. Mr. Burstein said Charfleet made items for the leather goods company Aspinal of London and others.
Among the brands that Charfleet owns and produces is Leathersmith of London, originally established in 1839, a luxury brand with products such as a red leather datebook priced at 120 pounds (about $147) that displays a week at a time. Other such brands include Organise-Us and Dataday.
Most of the books are sold from the Charfleet website, although some products are also available in stationery shops and the Place London, a fashion boutique that Mr. Burstein also owns.
Mr. Burstein said he himself had been using a notebook for years because “when I write things down, I remember them better than when I do it on the computer.”
“I have thousands of them and I never throw them out,” he said.