10:00AM: The lights are down in the Dayton Convention Center, where hundreds of journalists await Mead CEO David Woodman’s unveiling of the latest glittering product. Rumors swirl: five-color pen? A no-rip spiral-bound notebook? Or, as Woodman has coyly suggested, an improvement on the company’s flagship sheet of paper?
10:02AM: Woodman takes the stage to a rock-star ovation from the paper-geek crowd, dressed in his trademark relaxed-fit chinos and short-sleeve white collared shirt with a wacky Mead-product tie — today’s is a cascade of expanding files.
10:05AM: Woodman spends a few minutes crowing about Mead’s successes the past year: sales of 2-inch binders are up 27%; they’ve opened their first iconic Mead Store in China, employing two dozen “Mead Notables” to handle customer questions; and Mead has just sold its one hundred millionth 1.5-inch binder. Yes, yes, we know, Mead owns the paper-products industry, get on with it…
10:07AM: “What we are unveiling today is a paradigm shift in information processing,” Woodman intones. “It will change the way you present and receive data; it will change the way you think.”
10:08AM: From the ceiling descends an opaque rectangle haloed in light, with the new product obscured behind it. It might be a sheet of paper — yet, from my seat fifty feet back, it seems a tad small…
10:10AM: Whoa. *rubs eyes, pinches self* My estimate of the size wasn’t inaccurate. Mead has created the SlimPaper, the world’s first 8.25-by-10.75-inch piece of paper, shrinking the preexisting letter-size sheet by a full quarter inch. The crowd’s collective intake of breath is audible. Woodman beams; the iconoclast lives for moments like this. Um, anyone not buying Mead stock right now?
10:17AM: Okay, what you’re all waiting for: the specs. In addition to the length-width minimization, Mead’s engineers have thinned the sheet from 0.1 to 0.08 millimeters — breaking a barrier no one thought possible. For a 500-sheet ream, this translates to a full ten millimeters. And formerly twenty-pound bond paper now weighs nineteen pounds, fourteen ounces — with no loss in sheet density. I’ve been covering the paper industry for twenty-five years, and I’m flabbergasted.
10:25AM: So it looks good, as we say, “on paper.” But how’s the performance? Woodman demonstrates with a standard ballpoint, scrawling some words: “Who wants…” The pen glides effortlessly over the surface, with sparkling crispness and enviable ink receptivity. Woodman’s full sentence takes shape: “Who wants my old laptop?” It garners hearty laughter from the journos. Next, Woodman whips out a four-color and clicks on the red. Then the green. Then the blue. The primary colors pop. One imagines it’s what it felt like gazing upon a Mondrian at the Met in 1942. And that’s not all; Woodman says the SlimPaper backgrounds will come in pure, cloud, downy, ivory, cream, and off, with the Christmas rollout of a special-edition U2 sheet in pitch-black.
10:32AM: Woodman draws concerned gasps when he slides his index finger along the SlimPaper’s edge. But he holds it up: Look, Ma, no blood. “At Mead, we’re very concerned about safety,” he says. “That’s why we’ve invented revolutionary MicroRounding™ technology, to virtually eliminate paper cuts.” He receives a standing O; there’s not a single parent in the room who hasn’t lost sleep over what we assumed were the necessarily intrinsic perils of paper.
10:38AM: Enough boring office work; how does the SlimPaper handle the fun apps? Woodman doodles, and doubts about the sheet size vanish — the 88.6875 square inches easily accommodate stick figures, dialogue balloons, and “three-dimensional” cubes. Then he plays a glorious full-page game of Hangman, calling on the crowd for letters. “K-I-L-L-E-R-A-P-P.” Good one, Dave.
10:45AM: Woodman ticks off the other advances: 105% recyclability; thirty-year non-yellowing shelf life; enhanced airplane constructability. “But what we’re most excited about,” he says, as he folds a fresh SlimPaper in half, “you’ll have to see to believe.” He counts aloud with each new fold — two, three, four — as the sheet thickens. He reaches eight, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. “Hmm,” he muses, “I sort of feel like folding this piece of paper a ninth time.” My colleague Victor Lassiter, of the New York Record of Paper, can’t control himself. “If you can fold that paper again, I’ll eat it,” he shouts from the front row.
10:48AM: Woodman grins and, with the ease of a seasoned origamist, folds the paper a record-breaking ninth time. The room bursts into applause. Lassiter shakes his head, a smile on his face, and walks on-stage to eat his words. “Fortunately for Vic,” says Woodman, “the SlimPaper is completely edible, with hints of rosemary and tarragon.” He unfolds the piece and rips it in two, and the men — sometime-nemeses infamous for sparring in the press — enjoy a late-morning snack together.
10:50AM: Sales of the SlimPaper will commence tomorrow, at three different price points depending on ream size; the cost of the now-obsolete BrightPaper is expected to drop accordingly. And Woodman announces an exciting new partnership sure to shake up the musty world of paper: The SlimPaper will be sold in a packaged deal with the scorching-hot Microsoft Zune.
Teddy Wayne is the author of Kapitoil.