Moleskine: the “de-commoditization” of the notebook

How to create a unique market place through innovation

Moleskine is fascinating Italian company marketing notebooks and writing related products. Founded in 1997 the company has experienced an enormous success over the years leading to the company IPO on the Italian stock exchange in 2013, raising $314 M for 50,17% of the capital.

  1. Did you choose the company as an example of effectiveness or ineffectiveness? Why?

I choose Moleskine as a great example of success and effectiveness, through a strong alignment between its business model and operation the company managed to revitalize an object, the notebook, which had become a commodity, achieving unique positioning and opening up an entirely new market. Moleskine success, reflected in the company growth in the recent years, from €40M in 2009 to €98M in 2014, enjoying a CAGR of +21%, and positive Net income. This was only possible given the strong operational model behind it, and its focus on retail, product innovation and brand management.

  1. Describe the company’s business and operating models. What is interesting about them?

Moleskine develops and markets three main product line, all of them sharing the Moleskine Brand:

  • Paper products; the core business of the company, it represents 93% of the sales, it includes Moleskine’s signature notebooks (picture1), copybooks and similar products
  • Writing traveling and reading; representing 7% of the sales, it includes, pens, small bags, reading accessories and other
  • Digital products; introduced in 2012, it represents 1-2% of the sales, and it includes a range of note-taking related apps and service

The brand currently distributes its products in 113 countries through 4 main distribution channels:

  • Wholesale; selling its product through a wide range of department stores, bookstores and similar third party operated stores – currently represents 69% of the business
  • B2B; Moleskine establishes partnerships and individual agreements with different companies around the world, providing them either a supply of their regular products or works alongside with them to produce a personalized version. This business currently represents 19% of the business.
  • E-commerce: representing 4% of the business, the company sells its entire product offering through its directly-operated-website.
  • Retail: the development of the retail network started only in 2011, and experienced interesting growth rates. Currently represents 8% of the revenues. Retail carries the entire product offering and along with the e-commerce channel it represents one of the most effective methods of communication with the final customer

As of the end of 2014, 50% of the sales are generated in Europe, with only 10% in Italy, 36% of the sales are generated in the Americas and 14% in the APAC Region.

With the basic notebook selling at approximately $23, the company has a unique positioning in the luxury market (exhbit1). With a strong brand identity, Moleskine is a highly ego-expressive brand, becoming over the years a life-style brand, associated by most consumer with design, art, culture, writing and memories, almost completely losing the functional aspect of a regular notebook.

Exhibit1 – Moleskine positioning


Source: Moleskine IPO report

Moleskine approaches the market with an integrated operational structure, which includes the direct management of key segments of the value chain, with a tight control over outsourced goods. Moleskine runs its most strategic activities (brand equity & communication, marketing, production, development and distribution)  in house, whereas manufacturing is outsourced, supported by 17 supplier.

The company operating model is built around three pillars (exhibit2):

Exhibit2 – Moleskine Operation Pillars


Source: Moleskine – company strategy deck

Increasing brand awareness: Moleskine is highly effective in nurturing its worldwide relationship with the design community by continuously engaging with this environment through spot on and targeted below the line activities. An element that is proving of great success for Moleskine are the partnerships that it establishes. Examples are Moleskine Partnership with Valentino for its 50th anniversary. Moleskine develop a specific notebook design that would be sold/gifted during Valentino’s 50th anniversary exhibition.  Through such deals Moleskine manages to enhance its brand awareness and being associated more and more tightly to the design/luxury industry, achieving an always more unique positioning.

Growing accessibility: Moleskine is heavily expanding its distribution, by leveraging on all the four channels that it currently operates. Over the past years Moleskine has been expanding the current distribution as well as upgrading the current one. A special mention has to be made about the retail channel expansion, through in-house developed retail concept (picture2) Moleskine manages not only to increase sales, but also to effectively deliver a strong customer experience that will reinforce its customer loyalty. The company also does a great job continuously updating its store concept, a great example of this is the latest concept of the Moleskine Café, a mixed retail concept that will open the first prototype store in 2015 in the Geneva Airport.

Broadening the product offer: Innovation is a key strength for the group. Over the past years new product are contributing to 15%-18% of the company revenues. Moleskine manages to achieve this through a very strong internal R&D department always looking into developing new and exciting products satisfying the customer needs as well as through partnership with digital players, that allow the company to achieve a high level of integration between the analog and digital environment. The most interesting of this partnership is the one with Evernote, established in 2013, whose main objective is make always more efficient and easy to transfer and manage content from analog to digital.

  1. Do the models align and support each other?  How?  What specific features of the operating model are designed to create and sustain competitive advantage?  What features of the business model leverage unique capabilities of its operating model?  What are the implications for performance?

Moleskine business model perfectly aligns with the company strategy, being in control of the key functions that are supporting its three operational pillars. The company has been able to define its own market segment and create as strong competitive advantage by continuously innovating its product line, leveraging on partnerships, both in the design area and the communication/brand equity area and by developing and rolling out a consistent and strong retail model.

This operational model has led Moleskine to a substantial growth over the recent years, with successful financial results, as shown in exhibit3

Exhibit 3 – Moleskine financial Results 09-14 (€M)


Source: Moleskine


notebook pc


store pc


Company website:

Mediobanca IPO report: http//

Moleskine corporate strategy documents:

Moleskine IPO report

Moleskine quarterly presentations




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Student comments on Moleskine: the “de-commoditization” of the notebook

  1. Do you feel that the investment in R&D is justified given that paper products make up 93% of Moleskine’s sales, and it is, as you say, an example of decommoditization (which is really just an exercise in creative positioning of an established product)? Is this an attempt to diversify more into digital and away from the massive margins they’re currently enjoying in the paper products line, just in case the winds of the cultural zeitgeist begin to shift over how reasonable it is to buy a $23 notebook?

  2. Very interesting post Andrea! It’s phenomenal that how a notebook company is able to create a strong community that has lots of brand advocates around the world. How sustainable do you think their business is given the vast digitalization? In addition, one of their major distribution channel – bookstores – is declining in a very fast way.
    A question that I have is whether Moleskine is utilizing their retail stores in an efficient way. Most of the consumers use Moleskine because of the “experience” and I was wondering if they were able to integrate this experiential aspect in their retail stores.

  3. Awesome article. Like Sinem, I find it fascinating that a notebook company has been able to find a niche and be successful in a digital age. I had no idea they were conducting R+D with digital partners, and like first poster, I am a little wary as to whether that is the right move. Usually ignoring tech trends is a kiss of death for growth, but given their core business and the eco-expressiveness of their notebook users, I’m worried that moleskine digital offerings will dilute the brand’s appeal. Sort of reminds me of Lomography – who sort of built an iconoclast culture and who struggled with whether or not to go digital or stay true to their old-school, throwback roots. Will definitely be interesting to see where they go next.

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