About David sax

David Sax is a Canadian journalist specializing in business and culture who has written for publications including New York Magazine, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg Business Week. His book “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” was one of The New York Times‘ top 10 books of 2016. Sax‘s favorite analog products are books and magazines. “I love reading physical newspapers, too,” he says, “although reading newspapers online is usually more convenient. But, for me, a real, physical magazine and a real physical book is absolutely essential. It‘s right there in your hand, it‘s fairly resilient and it doesn‘t require a battery. When you think about it, paper is the perfect technology.”

Here’s an interesting experiment for you. At your next meeting, see how many people sitting around the table are using laptops, smartphones, tablets and phablets to take notes – and how many are jotting them down with a pen in a Moleskine notebook. If author and journalist David Sax is right, you’re going to see the numbers of pen-and-notebook users increasing in the future as people combine their state-of-the-art digital devices with a return to trusty, if old-fashioned, analog.

“Moleskine notebooks are now the analog working accessory of the digital age,” says Sax. “Go to a coffee shop in London, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo and you’ll find someone sitting there with their latte, laptop – and Moleskine journal.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The obituary was written for analog products from the early 2000s when sales of personal computers, then laptops, then smartphones and tablets increased and the dream of a paperless office came nearer. In 2014, music downloads overtook CD sales, just as CDs had once overtaken vinyl. Struggling brick-and-mortar record stores closed in cities across the world while the rise of e-books, Amazon and other online retailers sounded the death knell for many physical bookstores. As the popularity of video and console games grew, sales of board games also took a dive; and with the proliferation of handily downloadable digital media, magazine subscribers went online to read their favorite titles, leaving the print versions unloved and on the shelf. The fallout meant the end for some publications, while others ploughed all their resources online and reinvented themselves as ‘e-zines’. Newsweek, for instance, closed its 80-year-old print title in 2012 and became an internet-only product. Analog, plainly, had had its day.

But then a few years ago, a strange thing happened. People began rediscovering analog products all over again. 

Look at the incredible revival of vinyl records, for example. In the U.S. in 2015, vinyl sales increased by 32 percent to $416 million, their highest level for 27 years. In the U.K. in 2016, 3.2 million records were sold – a rise of 53 percent on the previous year. According to a report from Deloitte, this turntable trend isn’t set to go backwards any time soon. In fact, it estimates that, this year, annual sales of vinyl records will pass the $1 billion mark for the first time since the 1980s. There’s also been a rise in board games purchases, up 28 percent in the U.S. in 2016, and Moleskine’s sales were up from $58 million in 2010 to $139.5 million in 2015.  

And print magazines? Many of them are back too, with Newsweek relaunching its print edition in 2014 and around a thousand new magazine titles being launched in the U.S. alone each year. In addition, bespoke custom print has thrived. Take Monocle, the on-trend current affairs, lifestyle and design magazine – launched in 2007, it has seen its sales grow each year. Today Monocle sells 81,000 copies per issue, with 18,000 subscribers.

Another astounding trend in this age of ubiquitous social media snaps and selfies is the growth of film photography. After selling one million of its Instax cameras in 2002, Fujifilm saw sales plummet to 100,000 by 2004 as camera phones became ever more sophisticated. Yet, last year, it was reported that Instax film cameras are outperforming Fujifilm’s digital models, and that in 2017 the company estimates it will sell 6.5 million units.

We’re made of flesh and blood and walking on a spinning rock. As long as that remains the case we will always interact in a deeper, more meaningful way with the analog world.

“All of these products had been written off in the media as dead,” says Sax, whose latest book is called “The Revenge of Analog.” “What’s more, those individuals who stuck with vinyl, film cameras and pen and paper over the years were told: ‘You’re outdated and a Luddite.’ But then – surprise! – these supposedly obsolete technologies started growing again.”

Except, Sax says, that this should come as no surprise at all. He believes that, for retailers, there is a solid, practical reason behind the return of analog: i.e., they look at the sales figures and give people what they so obviously want. “Also, Amazon and the other online companies that are currently opening brick-and-mortar stores are not doing it for fun. They know that online, “digital only” retail has its limits. They can’t display things in an attractive and varied way; they can’t add a value of service in terms of staff knowledge; and they can’t build a brand that people can touch and have an emotional connection with. All of which impacts their sales.”

For consumers, Sax points to a primal urge for going retro with analog. “Human beings are fundamentally analog creatures,” he says. “We’re made of flesh and blood and walking on a spinning rock. As long as that remains the case we will always interact in a deeper, more meaningful way with the analog world. Take a person’s vinyl collection. You’d happily flip through that, but you’d never ask to see the playlist on their smartphone. That’s because we derive more pleasure from the world outside of our screens because it’s three dimensional, tactile and gives us more sensation. We want it more – and so we’re willing to pay more for it.”

The growth in analog sales isn’t some kind of bizarre nostalgia trip on the part of 50- or 60-year-olds either, as Sax says that buyers tend to be younger. “Older consumers who are in love with their tablets and smartphones can’t understand why anyone would want to go back,” he says. “But for the younger generation who have only ever known digital, analog isn’t ‘old’ or ‘vintage.’ It’s almost an entirely new technology.”

This isn’t to say that millions of people around the world are suddenly going to start ditching their digital devices. Far from it. But many are recognizing that analog tools can unlock creativity and productivity because they work in a way that digital does not. The popularity of the white board, for instance, has never been dented by the smart board, thanks to its simplicity. 

“There’s a reason why Jeff Bezos conducts meetings at Amazon by asking his teams to write paper memos and read them out,” says Sax. “Paper or white boards are physical repositories for ideas. They deliver. It’s why the innovators at Google always use pen and paper for the first phase of their product designs. This is not a rejection of technology – it’s a mature use of it. We need to think of technology as a toolbox. Sometimes we need to use the most up-to-date power saw. Other times a knife, chisel and hammer would do the job better. Ultimately, we go with what’s most appropriate and works best for us. That includes analog.” —  Tony Greenway

Robert Bound,
Culture Editor, Monocle, U. K. 

What analog item can you not live without and why? What makes this item indispensable over its digital version?  

Paperback books. Man, it sounds studiedly "Dawn of the 20th Century“ to say it but the paperback is the best way to read almost anything, especially fiction which, as we know, is the best way to learn fact. Paperbacks are the size of your two palms but potentially span a leap so far greater than the width of your mind. It‘s a fact that we absorb knowledge better off paper than off a screen and while newspapers are nice, books are best.

Will analog continue into the far future?

I believe so. We‘ve heard so much about the ‘feel’ of print and vinyl records and craft beer and all this stuff – and of course that‘s important. But what is less considered is the pure practicality of so much of the analog world - or, as it‘s otherwise known, the world. Books are more practical than e-readers, newspapers are more practical than tablets or phones. Machines with buttons are easier to use than touching a button-like part of a screen. I‘ve just bought a not-that-small house and still don‘t have space for my beloved, bloody huge 3000-strong CD collection, though. Maybe attic rooms are the most beloved of all analog things.

For the full interview with Robert, please click here

Sarah Al Othman, Key Account Executive, Saudi Arabia

What do you like about playing tawilah (backgammon)? 

I have loved playing for a few years now. My friends in Istanbul taught me to play, and I often enjoy playing a game with siblings or friends, whilst sipping some tea – it’s a lovely way to spend a free evening.

With so many digital games around, and even virtual reality options on offer, why do you still like playing a traditional board game?

Tawilah allows me to make connections. During the game I interact with my family members or friends and we all have great fun. Plus, it is traditional. It is one of the oldest board games in the world and was already around in ancient Mesopotamia. In Saudi Arabia, we are keen to move forward, but we are also very rooted in our heritage and love preserving traditions.

Saudi Arabia has a very young population and one of the highest per capita concentrations of people on social media. Do you think this means that the digital world will one day just overtake the analog world?

No, I don’t think so. Yes, we are quite a digital nation – especially young people, of course. And I see this growing much more in future – everyone has at least one smartphone and many people are digital natives. However, as I already said, as much as we are ready to embrace the digital future, we also love our traditions. For example, here in Saudi we love playing games at our gatherings. We also have many new board games such as Saudi Monopoly, Deal, and Ludo. Is there anything better than having a fun game with your family? Playing online with an avatar just isn’t the same.

Daniel Montua, Digital Communications Manager, Germany

Do you have an analog item that you are really fond of?

Yes, after making the transition from CDs to MP3s and iPod, and finally onto Spotify this year, I transited back and now I own a record player and LPs.

Record players and LPs are certainly a move back in time – what made you consider them?

Well, actually, there is already a trend towards people starting to own and collect records, and there are quite a few record shops opening up. This is what first got me curious, and then I got pulled in.  Spotify is great, and I am certainly keeping my subscription, but there is a certain pleasure to owning a physical album. I also love the covers – and I see buying an album as creating a much closer connection with my favorite bands.

Do you think this is a passing fad and one day analog items will simply disappear?

I don’t think so. When you look around, as much as digitalization is moving forward, many of my peers at least like to enjoy the benefits of the digital world, but are also quite firmly rooted in the analog side. For me personally, my role involves constant engagement in the digital space and those records allow me some precious time away from that, back to a more traditional old-school way. That is very enjoyable, and it also brings balance, which I think is very important.

Published: September 2017

Images: 12frames/Adobe Stock; Christopher Farber; For Robert Bound: Ana Cuba; for Sarah Al Othman: Sarah Al Dubaikel; for Daniel Montua: Sonja Beyland