Handsome Paper Notebooks Come With Digital Backup

Mod is a line of notebooks that “syncs to the cloud.”

Paper is awesome. So is digital. We shouldn’t have to choose between them in a zero-sum game, right? That’s why the popular sketching app Paper now lets you output your digital drawings into physical books. Now a brand called Mod is offering the same product in reverse: handsome physical notebooks that “sync” to a digital app and web service. All hail the flip-flop!


“Sync” is a bit of a stretch to describe what Mod truly offers, which is a pre-paid, mail-in scanning service for its notebooks. For $25, you get a blank book (designed to be exactly the same size as an iPad Mini) and a Netflix-like pre-paid envelope. When you’ve filled up the notebook, you mail it back to Mod. They scan all the pages, and within five days all the content is replicated digitally in your Mod account. (You can have the notebook returned to you, but that costs extra; by default, the paper book will be destroyed by the scanning process and recycled.)

Marshall Haas, a partner at MetaLab who co-created Mod with Jon Wheatley, used a personal pain point as inspiration for the product. “Before we made Mod, we did take pictures of each page in our trusty paper notebooks one by one, and then uploaded them to Evernote. It’s a pretty awful and time-consuming experience,” Haas tells Co.Design.

Mod sounds more like a digital archiving/backup service for notebooks than a syncing platform–more Mozy than Dropbox. “Sync” implies real-time, two-way updating; Mod’s turnaround time takes days, and it’s by definition one-way (because, you know, physics). The “sync” metaphor also breaks down a bit when you consider that you can’t access Mod’s digitizing benefits a la carte–you mail in the whole notebook when it’s filled, not page by page or in chunks. But “syncing” a physical object sounds sexier than “scanning.”

This is not to say that Mod’s actual functionality isn’t clever and useful. The notebooks look gorgeous and high-quality, and the app’s interface for displaying scanned pages is simple and attractive. Mod also integrates with Evernote, Dropbox, and OneNote, so once your pages are scanned, you really can get flexible with them between devices and platforms. As a tool for archiving creative process materials, Mod looks pretty great. Once you wrap up a project, you can clone your sketches to the cloud for future reference, instead of having dozens of notebooks filling up shelf space. And if you’re the nostalgic-for-physical-stuff type, you can even have both.

Haas says that “we have big plans to expand Mod’s functionality,” including optical character recognition and tagging. For now, it’s a neat way to have your paper-versus-digital cake and eat it, too.

[Read more about Mod]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.