Tag: industry

The writing tool renaissance

Here’s a fact you have to write down to believe: Over the past 10 years, during which the world has adopted smartphones and social media, sales of fountain pens have risen.

Retail sales, in particular, have grown consistently. In 2016 they were up 2.1 percent from the year before, making fountain pens a $1 billion market, according to a report by Euromonitor International. To compare, the overall market for personal luxury goods—watches, handbags, cars—was stagnant over the same period, suggesting that a good pen is a better investment than the bespoke suit in which it’s stowed.

These forces are even more pronounced in the Japanese market, where a study by Yano Research Institute Ltd. finds that fountain pen sales grew a remarkable 19.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, a leap attributed in part to an increased number of foreign buyers purchasing high-end Japanese products. In the Digital Age, it seems, the written word is the ultimate luxury.

The Nakaya Fountain Pen Co., in Tokyo, was one of the first pen makers to realize this, doubling down on individual craftsmanship even as the industry as a whole began trending toward mass production. What seemed like folly 20 years ago is starting to look more and more like smart business.

Nakaya is the brainchild of Toshiya Nakata, grandson of Platinum Pen Co. founder Shunichi Nakata. Toshiya’s father, Toshihiro, was president of Platinum in the mid-1990s when several of its most experienced craftsmen announced their retirement. For Toshiya, who’d left his banking job to learn the family business at the age of 29, the news came at a precarious time: The looming threat of email had fountain pen manufacturers worried that their product was doomed to obsolescence—or at least to a shift down-market.

Fearing that the workers’ departure represented an irreplaceable loss of skills, the youngest Nakata formed Nakaya, a line that would be a wholly owned subsidiary of Platinum but work independently. “There is a limit to the mass-produced fountain pen business,” says Nakata, a lean man in rimless glasses with a brusque, matter-of-fact manner, when we meet in Nakaya’s tiny but bustling headquarters in Taito City, Tokyo.

The retirees had occasionally been called upon to repair and adjust older pens, but that wasn’t enough for Nakata. “I thought, Why don’t we make some fountain pens?” In 1999 he signed up the pensioners to return to their familiar positions. Kohsuke Matsubara, a lathe master, went back to turning pen barrels from brownish-gray ebonite, a hard rubber material. (Matsubara still turns many of the Nakaya barrels himself.) Kazuo Maruyama, a metal-press specialist, fabricated nibs and pocket clips. Sadao Watanabe hand-adjusted all of the early Nakaya pens. In 2003 designer Shinichi Yoshida was hired away from Platinum to create models for the Nakaya line.

On the 17mm-diameter Long Cigar Chinkin Dragonflies fountain pen ($4,000), designs are carved into an urushi base using chisels, lacquer is inlaid in the grooves, then metal leaf and powder are added.
Photographer: Keirnan Monaghan for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop stylist: Theo Vamvounakis
According to Nakata, as much as 75 percent of its sales come from outside Japan—even though the company has no presence on the trade show circuit, not even at the annual Collectible Fountain Pen Supershow in Washington, billed as the “largest pen event in the world.” Nor will it be attending the London Writing Equipment Show in October, one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in Europe.

Instead, news of Nakaya spreads mainly through word-of-mouth on message boards such as Fountain Pen Geeks and on blogs, where the pens are described as “smooth,” “glossy,” “glowing,” and “poetic.” The only U.S. distributor is the online shop Nibs.com, which always has some items in stock for immediate purchase and can make minor adjustments on the fly. A few used models can be found on EBay, as well.

The ideal way to experience a Nakaya, though, is to hold it and feel it in your hand. The best way to test the pens is at one of the many impressive fountain pen emporiums in Tokyo: the vast Maruzen bookstore, a few blocks from the Imperial Palace; the airy rooms of stationery superstore Itoya, hidden among Ginza’s luxury boutiques; or the well-stocked specialist shop Kingdom Note in bustling Shinjuku.

Cruising their display cabinets can make a visitor feel as if she’s seeing double, or perhaps even octuple. The pens from Japan’s three big manufacturers—Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor—tend to look awfully similar, and after a while, the rows of dark, somber objects with metal clips and center bands can start to run together.

But even a novice can identify products from Nakaya. The first clue is the color palette, which explodes in reds, greens, pinks, ochers, cornflower blues, even bright oranges, all so shiny the pens almost appear to be underwater.

Some feature small, gold-colored pocket clips, but most are unadorned—no branding, no hardware, just cylinders of glistening lacquer. They’re the sort of sparkly item tailor-made for the Instagram era, but good luck getting the pens’ biggest fans to define their exact appeal.

“You can feel something when you hold a Nakaya that’s different from all other pens”
“I can’t explain it,” says Brad Dowdy. The fountain pen aficionado has devoted millions of words to the merits of analog writing tools during the past decade of producing his Pen Addict blog, but when it comes to the Nakaya Portable Cigar fountain pen—his personal favorite—he’s at a loss.

Sure, the nib is butter smooth, the weight perfectly distributed, and the blue-green finish, known as ao-tamenuri, spectacular. But the Nakaya is so distinctive, it throws him for a loop. “You can feel something when you hold a Nakaya that’s different from all other pens,” he says with an air of slightly exasperated admiration.

For Brian Anderson, a longtime collector, it’s the range of customization that separates a Nakaya from the rest of the market. Anderson, who with his wife, Lisa, operates the thriving online and brick-and-mortar operation Anderson Pens out of Appleton, Wis., says the brand “is intended to be bespoke. You can have whatever model you want, whatever finish, with whatever nib.”

As long as you’re willing to wait. The company makes only about 1,500 pens per year. And because many coats of lacquer are required to create the deep, even finish Nakaya is known for, the process takes about two months to complete.

Today, almost all the newly turned barrels are shipped to Wajima, a small peninsula six hours by train to the west of Tokyo. The area’s claim to fame, and its status in Japan as an “intangible cultural asset,” is the urushi lacquerware that artisans have been creating there since the 1500s.

The smooth, lustrous finish that has become Nakaya’s calling card begins its life as the milky white sap of the urushi tree. Although the trees still grow in Wajima, the region hasn’t been able to keep up with demand, and these days the sap is usually imported from China for the undercoating; the homegrown version is used for the top layers.

Urushi sap turns a light amber when exposed to air, but once it’s been filtered to remove impurities, more colorful pigments are added, and the resulting lacquer is then painted onto the pen barrels. After each coating, the urushi must be allowed to dry—or, more properly, to absorb moisture from the air, which causes it to solidify.

Between layers, the urushi is painstakingly buffed to a high sheen, and on many Nakaya pens, multiple layers of a second color are applied and then polished so the first color is barely visible—where the cap meets the barrel, on the threads, or on the lip right above the nib. Nakaya’s popular 10-sided Decapod model highlights this particular effect: Where the edges meet, reds, oranges, and greens show through the darker top coats.

Given the handmade quality of the pens, the entry-level models are surprisingly affordable, starting at $650. Sailor, Nakaya’s closest competitor, starts its urushi line at $1,900; the mass-produced black-resin Montblanc 149, a classic status-symbol gift, costs about $950.

The Yano study also notes that the increasing availability of high-quality, low-cost models for entry-level users is creating brand-new fountain pen fans. The finding hints at a virtuous connection between Nakaya’s prestige line and Platinum’s full range, which includes the Preppy, a $2 refillable fountain pen for the Japanese market.

Although some partisans of Pelikan International Corp., Montblanc, and other European brands complain that Nakayas lack heft, that lightness is a boon for the people who use them. Dowdy, the Pen Addict, describes his Nakaya as “disappearing” into his hand.

Lightheartedness is also part of the Nakaya spirit. Starting in 2003, the company released a line of converters—devices that allow a pen to use bottled ink as well as a cartridge—that are hand-painted with images of seaweed, tadpoles, cherry blossoms, and maple leaves. The converters aren’t visible through the pens’ opaque barrels, making them the equivalent of Mickey Mouse boxers worn under a bespoke business suit, a hidden bit of whimsy that leaves the stylish facade intact.

In the fountain pen world there is something of a tension between collectors, people who like to play Noah and buy two of each item, and users, those who take pleasure in putting the pens through their paces. Nakayas appeal to both. They are indisputably works of art, masterpieces crafted by hand using skills refined over a lifetime. And yet a pen with a nib this good—sexy, responsive, fine-tuned to the owner’s hand—deserves to be used. It would be a crime against writing to keep it locked away in a display case.

By June Thomas for Bloomberg

Till 1995, paper as a commodity was called white gold. But this gold has lost its sheen. In the 1960s, economists predicted that paper would face a shortage in India when its per capita consumption of about 2 kg catches up with the global average of around 35 kg.

To be fair, in 1973 the country witnessed an unprecedented paper boom. Financial institutions liberally doled out loans to all paper mills without looking into their viability. More than 320 mini paper mills and about a dozen big paper mills started operations since 1976 and after 1980 all these new mills started closing operations systematically.

Wrong forecast
Recently, Ballarpur Industries accounting for almost 35 per cent of the Indian paper market shut down citing financial constraints and adverse market conditions. Just a year ago Sirpur Paper Mills, a leading producer also shut its mill citing adverse market conditions.

Thus the pundits’ forecast turned out to be mere bluff, like the Malthusian theory of population which predicted famine for an increasing population in geometric progression. Robert Malthus did not figure technology in food production.

In the case of paper, computers and telecommunications greatly displaced the use of paper. A compact disc of 700 MB can store matter than can be printed in 60 reams of paper (double demy) of 60 gsm equivalent to one tonne of writing /printing paper.

This means, India’s 2 million tonnes of writing and printing paper production can be stored in some 1350 hard drives of 1 TB, which can be kept inside a small shop of 1,000 sq feet. One can understand the economics behind this. Also, one can think in terms of easy retrievability of data from computers, or discs, when compared to hard copy retrieval from paper board files.

Almost all government departments, regulatory bodies negotiable instruments, bank transfers, and so on have switched to electronic data keeping thanks to itseasy retrievability, accessibility, speed and safety. Therefore, there can be no speakable growth rate in paper in future.

In 1990s, the production of paper in the US in writing and printing grade was around 90 million tonnes which has dipped to around 60 million tonnes; it is continuing to decline.

The US government which used to be a leading consumer of paper is now storing data in metallic tapes and computers. This substitutes consumption of around 33 million tonnes of paper. This is the position for all governments worldwide.

Most of the demand prediction in India was based on the increase in the income levels of the lower and middle level income group. As this populace graduates towards the upper income level, a fresh demand would be created especially through education. This under normal circumstances was true especially for a country like India where 36.4 per cent of the population was living below-subsistence levels.

Electronic invasion
Income level did increase as predicted and a good percentage of our population graduated to upper income levels. But consumption of paper didn’t go up as expected. The electronic media invaded. Children are now using smartphones and computers for learning.

A greater section of the younger generation, including the eligible working population, has now turned to electronic medium. Thus the anticipated demand for paper did not materialise.

The book publishing industry too had been greatly affected; though the reading habit has greatly increased, readers now use laptops and mobile platforms for reading, which offers them great convenience in terms of bookmarking and revisiting passages.

In the office segment the effect is profound. All files are now stored on internet-based (cloud) applications from Google, Apple, etc.. Demat of shares and downloading of public limited company balance sheets in company websites, electronic telephone bills, e-ticketing, all have impacted paper consumption.

What vanished in the meantime was manifold paper, manila pink cover paper, duplicating paper, bond paper, ledger paper, account book paper, share application paper, policy bond paper and so on. Only copier grade paper mainly used in taking print outs from electronic printers is in use. That is in short a shift in consumption pattern that happened due to technology.

Also, a sea change has taken place in the way pulp is made. Added by advancement in chemical engineering in gumming fibres, most nations use ash content or saw dust in their pulp for very good quality paper thus substituting precious long fibre coniferous trees. Time magazine is printed in six-colours on paper using 35 per cent ash content on advanced printing machines.

The road ahead
In the paper manufacturing process, the advancement in high-speed machinery consuming optimum energy and controlled by electronic sensors, resulted in immense cost reduction for paper mills. Also, the latest technology would help them to conform to green emission/pollutions norms.

In about 15 years, consumption for writing and printing grade paper would have declined tremendously. As a standing reference, one can note that big photo film companies such as Kodak or Konica had to shut down their production of photo films when smartphones arrived.

There is no point in Indian paper manufacturers blaming cheaper imports. Countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, which have stronger currencies and better technologies, export to India. A focus on further cost reduction by implementing latest technologies would be a better option rather than to expect price increase through demand growth. For example, the ability to make copier grade paper in 40 gsm instead of the present 70 gsm should be the focus. The existing paper mills would survive only if they try to improve their pulping and paper machine technology instead of blindly adding capacity. However, packing grade paper such as kraft and duplex board may witness steady marginal growth due to rejection of plastics.

By TS Viswanathan, MD of Subramaniam Brothers, for www.thehindubusinessline.com

Stationery set to grow in the UK

The UK stationery market is set to rise by 2,4% in five years, from £2,06-billion in 2016 to around £2,1-billion by 2021, according to new research.

Analyst firm Verdict Retail’s latest report states that this growth will be driven by the rising trend of purchasing stationery as gifts, increased product ranges, and design-led products and innovation.

The firm said new entrants such as Smiggle from Australia and the impending arrival of Typo, another Australian stationery retailer, have made the stationery sector more competitive.

“Low entry barriers have enabled new market entrants to experiment with product design, which has triggered increased interest in stationery, particularly among those aged 16-24,” says associate analyst Sarah Johns.

“Increased product choice of premium stationery and availability of extra services such as personalisation mean shoppers are increasingly opting for stationery products as gifts.

“UK retailers are benefitting from shoppers who purchase stationery for a variety of occasions. For example, stationery is bought for children for the back-to-school period, for seasonal holidays such as Christmas, and for other occasions such as birthdays and Mother’s Day.”

A survey conducted by Verdict Retail found that 57,4% of stationery shoppers were female, while 9,7% of stationery shoppers surveyed bought stationery online.

Meanwhile in the last five years, drawing instruments and accessories became the fastest growing categories and will continue to dominate in the next five.

However, growth of the paper and notepad, storage and other stationery categories slowed in terms of value and volumes in the negative, with expectations it would continue to decline in the next five years.

Verdict Retail says one of the main reasons for this fall in sales is the ongoing digitisation and the rise in ownership and usage of technological devices, meaning stationery is being used less and does not need to be replaced as frequently as it did a decade ago.

By Elias Jahshan for www.retailgazette.co.uk

For many industries, information flow has seen a remarkable transformation from paper media to digital in order to save time, space and money. Not to mention digital media tends to be more organised than paper-based information. Paper companies have not backed down to the industry threat, however.

The paper industry’s activism in the mutual fund space

“When the government planned to make it easier for mutual funds to quit mailing investors billions of pages of reports each year, the paper industry got involved,” says Andrew Ackerman of the Wall Street Journal.

According to the WSJ writer, American Mutual funds spend over $300-million every year for paper in order to send investors hundreds of millions of reports every year. Many of these densely written packets are tossed out and unread.

Last year, in order to save time and money, Securities Exchange Commission regulators began proposing a digital solution, not requiring funds to send hard copy reports to their investors. As part of the justification, only “24.5 percent said they would request a mailed hard copy” if the switch occurred according to the WSJ.

The paper industry strikes back

“The push for “logical progress,” however, was not progress to everyone, as the American Forest & Paper Association and the Envelope Manufactures Association teamed up to stop the proposal, added Ackerman.

The two paper groups jointly funded the Consumers for Paper Options group while rallying retirees and consumer groups “decrying what they call the government’s rush to digitalise,” says Ackerman.

“Millions of our fellow Americans will be left out in an information desert,” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Maine Republican leading the pro-paper faction, warned on the House floor July 6, according to WSJ.

In the end, the paper industry’s activism prevailed and the chairman of the SEC commission, Jo White, decided to drop the plan. White noted the plan had drawn “considerable attention,” and planned on a formal announcement this autumn, says Ackerman.

By Andrew Efimoff for www.benzinga.com

Importers of electrical products are experiencing long delays in obtaining letters of authority from the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NCRS), resulting in huge backlogs for companies.

This is according to DA spokesman for trade and industry Geordin Hill-Lewis, who on Tuesday said that this was negatively affecting the economy.

Stefan Sakoschek, regional director of the EU Chamber of Commerce and Industry in SA, agreed that the delays were a major problem as most European electrical firms in SA were struggling to get letters of authority, which are required for the import of each and every consignment of goods.

“There is a big congestion. Sometimes it takes a year or year-and-a-half to get approval. Electrical products, cosmetics, automotive products are mostly affected,” Sakoschek says.

“This can hold up production but also delay the launch of new products on the local market, such as mobile phones, with a resulting loss of revenue.”

The delay in having the goods released from the ports also incurred storage costs amounting to millions of rand.

NCRS CEO Asogan Moodley, who on Tuesday briefed a workshop on industrialisation organised by Parliament’s trade and industry committee about the work of the regulator, would not comment on the complaints, saying he would address the matter in a briefing to the committee next month.

However, Department of Trade and Industry deputy director-general Garth Strachan says the problems within NCRS were “minor” and were being addressed by the department.

He says that the NCRS’s 120-day turnaround time for processing applications for letters of authority was a “gold standard” internationally, especially against other developing countries.

By and large the NCRS was meeting this standard, he says, with most of the complaints coming from importers who were not complying with the law. The major issue facing the economy, Strachan says, was the flood of illegal and substandard imported products into the economy, which harmed local manufacturers and represented “a clear and present danger”.

However, Hill-Lewis said in an interview that he had been inundated by a “huge” number of complaints by frustrated importers whose applications for letters of authority had not been approved for longer than six months.

Importers of electrical goods in particular, he says, complained about not being able to get letters of authority with some such as Yamaha SA, Audiotronic, Tilk Powertools and appliance distributor Haier Group among those that have
complained that they had no stock.

Hill-Lewis says that the NCRS was not complying with the 120-day standard, which often meant that the imported goods were either sitting in the docks or in the ports of origin while waiting for the letters of authority.

“We are getting complaints that the situation has got so bad that stores are sitting without stock to sell. It’s a huge bottleneck in the economy,” Hill-Lewis says.

Carol O’Brien, executive director, American Chamber of Commerce in SA, says: “SA is fast losing its status as the distribution hub for information and communications technology equipment as a result of this red tape, and jobs are being shed in the value chain, and in multinationals, as products are not being released from ports.

“One wonders why the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) needs to keep waiting products that come from globally accepted computer brands such as HP, Dell and Lenovo. We see this act as a nontariff barrier for importers as we speculate that local suppliers who assemble electrical goods in SA are being boosted by holding back international brands. The country is the loser because we are becoming a dumping ground for old technology.

“Department of Trade and Industry deputy director-general Garth Strachan is wholly incorrect in saying the NRCS waiting period is the gold standard. Why do they provide the automotive sector, a strategic sector, with letters of authorisation within 30 days if 120 days is the gold standard?”

By Linda Ensor

Representing the South African portion of a global industry that has witnessed astonishing growth over the last 10 years, the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPASA) has undergone a brand refresh and developed a new market positioning strategy in a bid to prepare itself for a growing number of industry needs.

Consumer demand for health products is unabating, with the worldwide industry set to reach a value of $1-trillion by next year. And, says HPASA president Bruce Dennison, “Despite heavy regulations, the local industry continues to grow. It’s estimated to be worth over R8-billion, and is experiencing annual growth of 13,5%.”

The HPA’s strategy includes a new logo, a new info-heavy Web site, and the rollout of a marketing plan to drive consumer trust as well as improve product safety and efficacy.

Launched in 1976, the HPASA has long been at the forefront of championing quality standards and acting as a voice on all legislative and regulatory issues, in the natural health products, nutritional dietary supplements and complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) industries. The industry body represents a broad spectrum of stakeholders including manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, practitioners and more.

While acknowledging that they’ve had to deal with counterfeit, poor-quality and adulterated herbal products that can compromise consumer safety, Dennison says that the HPASA intends to rectify the distorted perception that the CAMs industry is reluctant to regulate. Pointing out that law needs to be rooted in data and insight, and be appropriate in nature to address real issues, he adds.

“We’re committed to not only fulfilling a meaningful role in developing appropriate regulation, but also improving our relationships with the Department of Health, and media, consumer groups and associated bodies in South Africa.”

The HPASA’s new Web site provides the latest insight, analysis and data on health products and CAMs. Registered members have access to the very latest in legal, regulatory and research documents, presentations, papers and journals on production, manufacturing, distribution, standards and ethics.

“With growth comes a continual new set of challenges that not only the association needs to address, but that our members need to be adequately informed to handle,” says Dennison. “We believe our readily available, well-resourced Web site will provide that information, complemented by our monthly meetings in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.”

Global Industry Analysts has announced the release of a comprehensive global report on Stationery Products. The global market for Stationery Products is projected to exceed $226-billion by 2020, driven by steadily improving literacy rates, increasing school enrolments, favourable demographics and growing enterprise activity.

From childhood and early education to employment and beyond, stationery products touch every stage of life. Products such as pens, pencils, papers and other accessories have a place in homes, offices, businesses and classrooms around the world. The stationery market evolved over the years to offer a wide array of products catering to different consumer segments. While education sector drives significant demand for basic stationery products, office supplies too have been contributing considerably to the market. While carbon paper, inked ribbons, mailing supplies, and writing instruments have been a common feature in offices since long, modern enterprise sector, typically corporate and branch offices have been generating substantial demand for products such as marking devices, writing pads, binders, and party goods, among others. Health of enterprise sector, as represented by number of new office starts and branch expansions typically dictate growth patterns in office use stationery supply market.

Growing levels of literacy has made basic stationery items such as pens, pencils and paper ubiquitous products across the globe. The global stationery products market is experiencing growth at the back of rising youth population, need for education, growing number of primary & secondary educational institutions, and ever increasing student enrolments across the world. Since the mandating of Education for All framework established by the United Nations in 2000, countries across the world have made rapid progress towards attaining the goal. Future growth in the global stationery products market is expected to come from emerging economies in Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa. Key factors driving growth in these markets include growing population, expanding base of professionals, increasing literacy rates, rising disposable income, increased spending on education, government initiatives to improve education sector, and a parallel increase in number of school establishments.

The electronic age brought mixed bag of challenges and opportunities for the stationery market. While traditional segments such as mailing supplies and paper based products have taken a direct hit due to digitisation, introduction of computers and advanced gadgets however expanded the scope of the industry, creating a new category of consumables such as printing papers and inked ribbons, marking devices, and labels.

As stated by the new market research report on Stationery Products, the United States represents the largest market worldwide. Asia-Pacific ranks as the fastest growing market with a CAGR of 6.4% over the analysis period. Growth in the region is largely driven by large population base, steady growth in child births, increase in literacy rates, rise in number of school enrolments per year, increase in business development activities and subsequent rise in number of office establishments. The growing education sector being a significant contributor to the stationery market is thriving in developing Asian countries such as India and China.

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