The Moleskine Hype
There are many positive aspects of the Moleskine notebook mentioned around the Internet. However, few focus on the negative points of the brand. Rather than to weigh the pros and cons of the Moleskine brand, this article will just briefly focus on some of the not-so-good things about the latter for readers seeking additional information before planning to purchase a Moleskine notebook, then allowing the reader to make his or her own independent decision regarding it.
Moleskines are of course not your everyday cheap legal pads for quick jots and disposable doodles - the premium pricing of these notebooks place them as products for professionals and artistes, finished papers for journalling and archival. There are a couple other brands within the same range you may have heard before or not e.g. Clairefontaine; Rhodia; Quo Vadis.
You may have heard of things like "van Gogh used this notebook" or "Ernest Hemingway used Moleskines". Would it be true, the appeal to popularity aside, this would indeed have quite a significant boon to the prestige of these notebooks. It is not that it is untrue, though; what the company claims is not false, but it can be better clarified. What the advertising refers to, rather, is that the above-mentioned writers were using notebooks of a similar style to the modern Moleskine (which began in 1990s), and not the Moleskine notebooks themselves. You might have thought that Moleskine was some centuries-old paper maker otherwise.
The Moleskine term is but a contemporary trademark for the unlabelled style of notebooks the earlier artistes preferred. You may notice that Moleskines open and lie flat easily with their simple form, and with perhaps the elastic band on the outside and an integrated ribbon bookmark, held up by a good spine. Truth is, this is a style that was copied from the earlier notebooks of old, produced by a multitude of small paper manufacturers perhaps whose names are already forgotten over time. There is therefore no direct link from Moleskine to van Gogh. In fact, if you look around, similar styles of notebooks can be found in other brands as well. Hence, this style is not unique to Moleskine, this niche is not unique to Moleskine, just that the trademark of Moleskine does, and the term "Moleskine" can be used to refer to any style of notebooks made in this fashion directly, future, present or past. Think of how you say "Coke" when you may be looking for Pepsi, because for the same thing they are both cola drinks.
Hence, the marketing might be tricky - it is not that it is untrue, it is just that it might lead to false conclusions. Van Gogh did not prefer Moleskines. In fact, he could have liked any of the modern brands lying around now that emulated the same style we now, due to trademark exposure, call "Moleskine".
This will be a little more concern to people who make any issue, if any, out of paper at all. This means people who like to feel up paper for their smoothness, their colour and a variety of things; or for people whose pens are a little picky at times about paper compatibility.
Moleskine paper always feels rather coated to me. Coats are not good because there is generally some small level of oil on the finished surface of the paper - it may help with smoothness and feel, but affects certain types of water-based inks that can cause feathering. My rather wet-writing fountain pen has had certain feathering issues with a Moleskine sketchbook and has the ink come out grayish instead of a deep black. For most ballpoint users though, Moleskines should give a "cushy feel" upon writing to create a smooth glide with none of the issues faced.
If you have seen a Quo Vadis Habana notebook before, I do think that the paper feel, in fact the design of the notebook style itself, is quite close to the Moleskines. However, as for the actual writing performance, I have no information on it though I do think both should yield similar results. But to be fair, Moleskine is known for the design and style, and not for their paper. If paper is a priority rather than prestige and branding, you could be disappointed with a Moleskine.
As written earlier, the price of Moleskines place them beyond the range of "disposable notebooks". However, since the prestige of the Moleskine brand i.e. not really "celebrity"-endorsed as it seems after all and the paper are actually not huge points of merit after all, I would not believe the Moleskines to be as "premium" as they appear to be sold. Other manufacturers with similar styles, and possibly better paper, seem to be able to market their products for lesser.
Still, thanks to the hype and the marketing, you would be more recognizable with a Moleskine than possibly any other brand of notebook around. If that is important to you, just as why you might don a pair of Adidas than say, Saucony (both brands are fantastic), then I guess there is no other alternative for you then.