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How Field Notes Made 48-Page Notebooks Worthy of Collectors

Simple, utilitarian design goes a long way

Field Notes is riding the trend of American-made, back-to-basics design.

That Field Notes has become coveted by collectors—some willing to pay upward of $300 on eBay for rare editions of the brand's utilitarian memo books—is a beautiful surprise to creator Aaron Draplin. Founded in 2007 with just 200 handmade notebooks, the company now produces roughly 75,000 per run and last year sold almost half a million of them.

"Each year it's grown and now it's to the point where it's a bit of a monster," said Draplin. "There's something charming and awesome about where this thing has gone. It's just paper and staples."

Aaron Draplin created Field Notes as a cool gift for friends, and it took off from there. 

Draplin, who made the first edition as presents, said he created Field Notes because he couldn't find a sketchbook he liked. The 48-page mini logs, which are printed and manufactured in the U.S. and come in packs of three for $9.95, are designed to look like the promotional notebooks tractor companies would distribute to farmers in the 1920s. Co-founder Jim Coudal explained that as American-made fashion and back-to-basics hipsters came into vogue, Field Notes found its way into the mainstream.

Now well known enough to do exclusive runs for Levi's and Starbucks, the books are available in 1,400 stores, from bait shops to barbershops, but Field Notes does the majority of its sales online.

"The success of the brand lies not just in the style of the design itself, albeit clean and thoughtfully crafted, but in the lifestyle it evokes," said Adam Walko, creative director of Safari Sundays.

That the brand does seasonal editions—special notebooks with a smaller run of about 30,000 created around a theme and using an unexpected production process—has also curried favor with fans. For example, the most recent seasonal books, the Ambition edition, has gilt-edged paper. The company searched for a U.S.-based printer and only found one that could give the notes that special treatment: Liberty Book and Bible in Indianapolis. 

Tens of thousands of customers subscribe to the seasonal editions. Essentially a pre-order system, it has given the brand a reason to reach out to customers four times a year and helped it expand quickly. 

"We've done 25 [limited editions] so far, and except for a couple of recent ones they've sold out," said Coudal. "Without knowing it, we were sort of doing our own little Kickstarter, which allowed us to expand quicker than if we'd have to finance all the production ourselves out of the gate." 

The brand is now working on a deal with a distributor to sell Field Notes in China, as well as its own card game, but don't expect an iPhone app anytime soon: The brand is "delightfully and deliciously analog," according to Coudal. 

"It is a practical, usable sort of a thing," said Coudal. "Field Notes is just as appropriate in the hands of someone drinking a latte in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as it is in the hands of a guy in an ice fishing shanty in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan." 

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