Three notebooks stacked up next to three separate piles of 1,300 index cards.

On average, the typical A5 sized notebook (Leuchtturm, Hobonichi, Stalogy, Moleskine, Midori, Clairefontaine, Apica, Kleid, etc. ranging from 192 to 368 pages) has an equivalent square footage of writing surface to the front (only) of about 420 4 x 6 inch index cards. On a cost basis, for the same amount of money, on average one can buy 1,200 index cards for what they’re shelling out for equivalent notebooks.

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

16 thoughts on “”

  1. @pimoore Only if you’re not being creative. I find I can carry just about anything I need in a pretty compact form factor. What about when your notebook is full of material you don’t need except for those two pages which on index cards you can fold up and toss in your pocket? Or maybe those times when you’ve got material across three notebooks which then all need to be carried instead of a smaller subset? Maybe a book ring and a holepunch or a simple binder clip will allow you the best of both worlds. Each of these modalities has a variety of different affordances which we don’t often think about.

  2. @chrisaldrich You make a great point about the context, as that would no doubt play a role in how much or little writings you need. That said, perhaps another point in a notebook’s favour (for me at least) is the paper. Some of the index cards I’ve written on felt like plastic.

  3. @pimoore I’m with you there. I use both a stack of index cards and a Hobonichi, and the cards are so much thicker. The same though about writing surface came to mind, though, and an index card has a bit more than the Hobonichi for the same physical footprint, since every page in the Techo has quotes, dates and other markings.

  4. Matt Maldre says:

    I’d like to see some of your notecards with notes.

    1. Chris Aldrich says:

      Matt, I suspect that much like Luhmann said of people who saw his notes, you’ll see everything and somehow still be left disappointed. The “magic” is always somehow “hidden” in working with them, and may only ever be something I could experience.

      This being said, let me see if I can pull up something vaguely interesting…

    1. Chris Aldrich says:

      Keep in mind that a pound of feathers weighs as much as a pound of gold and that the comparison is compounded by a cost ratio here…

  5. @pimoore There is definitely a much wider choice of paper quality, thickness, coating, and other varieties in the notebook space than in the traditional index card one. Most index cards are on the rougher/pulpy side (Oxford, Amazon Basics, Staples, etc.), but I’ve not run into many that felt like plastic, aside from Rocketbook’s cards which are a bit more durable for being erasable/cleanable and reusable. For those into some higher end/luxe super smooth cards, perhaps Exacompta’s Bristol cards are worthwhile? Of course, if one isn’t as particular about their usual index card thickness, one could easily use off-the-shelf paper or custom cut their favorite paper and have thinner “slips”, though with heavy use over time (thumbing through them), these can show significant signs of wear.

  6. LJD says:

    It seems like you are comparing fancy notebooks to not-fancy index cards, so I’m not sure about your price comparison. I love index cards myself, but only Exacompta, and I use them along with (fancy-ish) notebooks.

    1. Chris Aldrich says:

      Yes, this comparison is in broad aggregate, so there is lots of fungibility in terms of price for quantity as well as quality. Broadly speaking though, there are so many different people with so many different requirements for thickness, texture, and some intangible sense of “feel” that one must do their own comparison. Few are likely just to decide based on price and will have some sort of gut reaction of one format over another, much less reactions over quality, quantity, and price. This also doesn’t get into how each type of paper works well or doesn’t with one’s favorite pencils and pens. If all of these things were easily and directly comparable, then there wouldn’t be so many subs on Reddit dedicated to stationery.

      There is also a reasonably well known brand name tax on many of the higher end notebook brand names, so attempting to compare things on that front is terrifically fraught to begin with. Even Exacompta’s Bristol cards face this in addition to import/distribution “taxes” which spreads the cost of 100 100x150mm cards anywhere from $4.00 to over $14.00 per pack. Personally I love the feel of their cards, but am disappointed that they’re neither a standard 4 x 6 inches nor A5, but some separate custom size all their own, and almost no purveyor ever mentions this fact.

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