Latest trends in fine stationery, custom invitations and announcements from the Stationers Guild

I recently was engaged in an  interesting discussion on LinkedIn within the “Greeting Card, Stationery & Gift Industry Gurus” Group.   Without going into a lot of detail, the discussion focused on the future of paper greeting cards and how best to create the next generation of eGreetings to connect with a new generation of “tech savvy” users.   While I do not question the impact of the digital revolution on paper greeting cards, I could not see an economic rationale to create a sustainable and successful eGreeting business.  Found below are brief excerpts of some of the comments I made during this discussion. 

 There is no question that digital greetings and invitations are rapidly eating into the “paper” market. While I don’t happen to think of paper as a “device”  since color reproduction and print quality on paper remains far superior and authentic to anything on the web (band-width restrictions), the whole point of the discussion is how to make money with digital greeting cards.

Personally, I think it is a losing proposition because I don’t believe any company will be able to create designs or unique delivery capabilities to compete on a sustained basis with the many (and growing) “free” alternatives on the internet. I have yet to hear how someone will be able to create “brand awareness” around something so mercurial as a greeting card and convince a critical mass of “subscribers” or “buyers” to pay for something that is pretty much free.

To draw from just one example. Take Blue Mountain Greeting Cards which was one of the first digital greeting cards to make a splash in electronic greeting cards. They are now owned by American Greeting Cards (AG), because they wouldn’t have been able to survive as a stand alone venture. Is AG any better off? I think not. Their sales are down 25% since 2002, they lost over $200 million in 2009 and they may break even this year.

Why Paper? A well-designed greeting card with a personalized message printed on quality paper is often worth “saving.” On the other hand, a digital greeting card or image maybe worth “storing” (there is a huge difference between mechanically deciding to save a physical object as compared to storing it on your computer). While you may eventually want to print the stored image, what will you print it on?: 20lb copy paper stock. There is a reason why people go to art museums: they want to see the real thing, not some digitally reproduced image formatted for a digital transmission. The same is true for greeting cards for memorable occasions.

There is a difference between building an iPhone application that plays “Happy Birthday” and sends a cute text message to your contact list on their birthday as opposed to building a business providing “unique” designs over a technology platform that gives the business provider a sustainable competitive advantage. Most novice tech users can already embed videos and pictures in their emails and many have already created their “free” WordPress or Blogger websites. While I don’t doubt that technology providers can “sell” services to users interested in creating or selling their own greeting cards, I have yet to see how one can build a sustainable eGreeting business around the many “cool” apps that appear each day. Competing against “free” communication alternatives doesn’t seem to be a market that offers much promise.

Just did a Google search: there are 14.5 million web pages offering “free greeting cards.” Do you think it will be less competitive when the iPad hits the market in a few weeks? Again, if someone shows me a sustainable business model for eGreetings I will eat the digital printout of the business plan. Better yet, if you have figured it out, go for it! (I would love to be a shareholder).

I remain unconvinced that one can make money on a sustained basis with electronic greeting cards. Twitter and Facebook have essentially eliminated the need for them since the lives of its members are pretty much an open book.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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