As computing became ubiquitous, increases in office efficiency were projected to cause the death of real world documents, paper and related supplies. In reality, the demand for specific products has shifted. Nielsen trend data indicatesdesk_set that consumers and businesses spent nearly $325 million on printer inkjet and toner cartridges (excluding WalMart) last year. This volume represented a 4% increase from the previous year. But the market for pens and pencils, weighing in at $317 million last year, experienced a drop of 4.5%.

With the market for traditional writing instruments under assault, manufacturers and retailers are coming up with new ways to position familiar products like the #2 yellow pencil. Leading retailer Office Depot recently announced its intent to help consumers find the writing instrument that best suits their needs. New flexibility in packaging allows consumers to purchase single pens. And pens are now coming equipped with special ink to prevent “criminal check and document washing”. Not to be left out, pencils are being touted as environmentally friendly and microbe-proof. These changes point to the need for creativity as marketers remind consumers that sometimes there is no substitute for old-fashioned tools of the trade.

[Sources: Lempert, Phil. Facts, Figures, & The Future, May 2009; Office Depot release, May 2009]