The Seven Year Swindle: looking closer at the “Seven Year Pen”
When I made my trip to New York a few months ago to find some new pens, I was mostly expecting the usual suspects: Pilot, uni ball, Zebra, Bic, Staedtler, Stabilo, etc. The kind of pens that you’ll find most places, since they’re the biggest manufacturers. But once in a while, it’s always nice to find something new.
At Kinokuniya Bookstores, I found something new. The Seltzer Goods Seven Year Pen. It purports to offer 7 years of use- if you write 1.7 meters a day, which sounds like a lot… but actually is about half a postcard worth of writing, or 1/3 of a page of standard paper.
So, they’ve created this pen that’ll last you from Freshman to Master’s in the name of environmentalism. Their website states:
Each year, an estimated 100 million pens are discarded every day. Yikes! Is all that waste really necessary? Maybe not, answers the Seven Year Pen. It’s not only possible to reduce waste, it’s possible to look cool while doing it!
In our wanderings through the world of products and manufacturers, the Seltzer designers were introduced to a Swiss pen maker that reduces waste by increasing the size of the ink supply inside the pen. The jumbo ink cartridge fills more of the barrel’s circumference, enabling the writer to pontificate a remarkable 1.7 meters a day for seven years. The shape of the Seven Year Pens is as svelte as anything you’re used to writing with, yet it goes on and on.
Regardless of the uber-efficient technology, we knew it would be equally important to design the Seven Year Pens in such a way you’d actually want to keep them for seven years. Our designers went to work, turning “regular” pens into “favorite” pens. We started calling them the Seven Year Pen so everyone would know it was designed with a purpose.
Since these colorful pens coordinate well with Seltzer’s modern line of recycled greeting cards, journals and stationery, our customers took to them right away. If there’s a moral to the story behind the Seven Year Pen, it’s this: there’s no reason why being eco-friendly and being a design lover can’t live happily together.
7 years is 2,555 days. In that time period, Seltzer Goods is claiming you can write a staggering 4,343 meters. That’s the length of 47 ½ football fields.
Now I don’t have much of a frame of reference here to go on. Is this much ink really something exceptional? I did a little bit of poking around, and it turns out this has been scientifically researched by the University of Reading:
In their study, they used a machine test that approximated human handwriting to get scientific controls. As a result of their study:
“We found the longest contour length recorded using just one pen was just over 2000m whilst the shortest was 0m as not every pen works out of the box! You will be familiar with scribbling with a ball point pen to get it to work. The human feedback in handwriting is a significant aspect to the use of a ball point pen. A machine system is less forgiving.
The average contour length for all the pens tested was just over 900m. For some brands the contour length was almost half this length whilst for others the contour length was 50% more than the average. The consistency of contour length was quite varied for some brands and very consistent for others.”
Bic has an FAQ, where, without divulging their scientific testing methods, answer the question “How long will a BIC® pen write before it runs out of ink?” with “Each BIC® ballpoint pen can produce between two and three kilometers (up to two miles) of writing.”
Let’s do that math. I’m going to take different kinds of pens and break them down by the amount of miles, days, and years to each option:
|Average pen per U of Richmond||900||529.11||1.45|
|Exceptional Pen per U of Richmond||2000||1176.47||3.22|
|Bic pen per BicWorld.com||3000||1764.7||4.83|
|Seltzer Pen per SeltzerGoods.com||4343||2555||7|
A Seltzer pen claims to write for a staggering 4.83 times the average pen, 2.17 times an exceptional regular pen, and 1.45 times Bic’s claim. If Seltzer’s numbers are true, then this is a heck of a pen as far as reducing waste goes. If everyone bought a 7-year pen, and we as a species discard 100,000,000 pens daily, we could reduce this waste by 7.55 billion pens a year.
But, we must remember- these are just claims. What is it that makes this pen SO exceptional? Was it custom designed? Made to serve the environment? The end result of a long labor of eco-minded penthusiasts to tackle massive waste head on?
Well…. not exactly.
One thing that’s immediately apparent about the Seven Year Pen is that it’s very light. The plastic is very lightweight and doesn’t feel extremely solid. That there was enough ink in this pen to write nearly 5 times the average pen, why didn’t it feel like there was a ton of ink in there?
My first thought was that the big rounded top was an ink reservoir, which is how they fit so much in. Or maybe it was just a huge cartridge, or a new kind of fancy ink or feeding system or, well, I just don’t know, but it had to be special.
Curiosity now piqued, I opened it up. And… it didn’t look like anything really too unique.
The ink cartridge is a little wider than most, but isn’t filled more than 2/3 of the way down. But there was no special reservoir or anything that would visibly suggest longevity.
Looking closely, I noticed a name on the barrel: “Prodir.”
I immediately looked them up on Google, and true to the advertising, Prodir is a Swiss manufacturer of pens. But not fine, luxury, or specialty pens. Promotional pens. The kind of pens you pick up at conferences or at doctors’ offices that have a name and logo printed on them.
I checked out their models, and there it was: The Prodir DS1. Look familiar? Yep- there it is. The vaunted “Seven Year Pen” is simply a repackaged promotional pen from a Swiss supplier, with no special research, development, or special ink, or anything. It’s a pen you can buy in bulk with your logo of choice printed on, marketed in whatever cockamamie way you see fit.
If you’re not familiar, the way promotional pens work in the United States at least is that you or I can’t buy direct from a supplier. So for example, if you were to go to the website of one of these companies, they’d ask for my registration with the ASI- and without that, Prodir won’t price these out to me, but check out this sweet Bills pen I worked up:
Since Prodir won’t price to me since I’m not registered, I’ll have to find a distributor. A Southern California company called Delta Graphics sells them, customizable. Lots of 1,900 pens can be purchased for $1.50 apiece. So do the math- a little marketing gimmick worth a hefty markup per pen. If they’re buying these direct from the manufacturer at the bulk they sell them, they’re likely getting it for under a buck- that’s an 800+% markup for what is just a very regular pen.
But where are they getting this idea of the length of this pen? Where do they back up these numbers?
To go right to the source, Prodir has a brochure on their website about their environmentalism, in which they claim “If we wrote at an average rate of 2 metres per day, we could use Prodir pens for about 5 years, equivalent to 5 kilometres of handwriting.”
Wait, what? 5 years is 1,825 days. With 2 meters written a day, that’s only 3,650 meters. That’s well shy of 5 km, and even short of Seltzer’s claim of 4,343, by a lot. So where are they getting these numbers?
Delta Graphics takes it a step further and says “Environmental due to longevity – it has a 5000m smooth refill.” Probably pulling that line by seeing the “5km” listed in Prodir’s brochure.
So here we have three sources- one manufacturer and two resellers- all coming up with wildly divergent lengths over their purportedly exceptional pen. Nothing is given to back these claims, with Prodir just claiming it and Seltzer repeating it as if they consulted with the company themselves on the type and design of ink instead of just drew some fun designs and had them printed on a promotional pen they’re selling for $8.
Not that any of these claims matter. They make a lot of bold claims about time and distance, but then oh yeah- “longevity may vary.”
But Wait! What does 1.7 meters per day even get me?
It’s very telling of the marketing scheme they put on this by referring to 1.7 meters as “remarkable” or 2 meters of writing per day as something worthwhile. In my mind, I think of how long a meter is, and think, yeah, 1.7 meters seems like a pretty good amount of writing. But again, we turn to science.
The University of Reading also included in their study some context of how much distance of writing it takes to complete typical tasks:
Going by these numbers, the Seven Year Pen sounds even worse. You might be able to squeeze 2 Christmas cards out of your daily allotment if 1.7 meters if you keep it short. If you want to send a postcard, you’re writing more than 1 and a half times your daily allotment to maintain a supply for 7 years. Filling up a page is going to cost you more than 3 times that 1.7 meter mark, hitting 5.332 meters. With this information, it’s not hard to understand all the reviews of people claiming it lasted them no more than a couple months.
Let’s put this to work in an experiment: let’s say the average college student takes 10 pages of notes per day, which seems reasonable (to me) for most undergrad work. 10 pages of writing is going to work out to 53.32 meters per day. That’s more than a full month of 1.7 meter days. If the Seven Year Pen burns an entire “month” of its’ seven years every day, you get 84 days of note taking out of this pen.
Again: the average student will get only 84 days of use from this pen. A college semester is 160 days. If you only take 5 pages of notes per day, and do no writing outside of that (no shopping lists, notes, cards, graffiti, nothing) you get a little more than a full semester of note taking.
As long as you’re not doing homework or anything else with your pen, along with your “longevity varying,” you will soon find out your Seven Year Pen is more akin to a Twelve Week Pen. It’s purely dishonest marketing, using numbers that sound good but are actually terrible, and appealing to people who want to be sustainable but will end up throwing out only a small amount fewer pens per year.
So in conclusion, the Seven Year Pen is a swindle. A purposely obfuscating marketing gimmick clothed in environmental language to make people think they’re buying something useful and sustainable, when all they’re doing is selling you a cheap pen for $8 that doesn’t too far exceed your average Bic Crystal you can buy in 24-packs for $6. The claims are unverified, the manufacturers don’t agree (even with themselves), they purposely misrepresent the longevity by using totally worthless metrics of 1.7 meters, and therefore it’s just not worth the money.
If you want a great pen that will last a while, try a Fisher Space Pen Cap-o-Matic. It’s purported to write up to 12,000 feet, or 3,657 meters (68 days of note-taking). It is $2 more, but it’s refillable- and the Fisher space ink is, for my money, the best ballpoint ink on the market. Fisher Pens are durable and a ton of fun to write with, and since most of these pens seem to be landing in the same area of distance once we do the math, you might as well use the solid American-made pen that will come in handy if you ever find yourself writing a postcard in space.
If you’re really feeling like you want to go bananas on this longevity thing, try a Fisher Infinium. According to Wikipedia: “the product literature states that the pen will write exactly 30.7 miles (approximately 49.4 kilometers).” That’s 49,400 meters, 29,058 days, and 79 years at Seltzer’s magical 1.7 meters per day. For those keeping score, that’s 926 days of 10-page note taking, enough to last for 5 full semesters of just notes, or maybe 3-4 years when factoring in homework, off days, and other things where the note levels drop.
Now, after all this, I’ll state that the Seven Year Pen, as a pen on its own, is merely OK at best. It was $8 for what seems like a fairly average-feeling ballpoint, definitely not worth the money, and is something I’d probably not even use if someone gave me. Surprisingly it does have its fans: I was discussing my idea for this post with an employee of my favorite local pen/bookstore The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY, and she was effusive in her praise for it, and claimed to own several.
But if you want my opinion: it’s a complete ripoff in every way.
P.S. linking to fellow pen blogger Richard’s Pen’s first take on Seltzer’s malarkey. Took a different angle, but still makes a great point.