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

Pam Danzinger of Unity Marketing reports that changing consumer communication behavior suggests bleak times ahead for the stationery and greeting card industry.  Ms. Danzinger, in a summary of her company’s report, argues that “the market for greeting cards is a tough one in today’s environment . . . as consumers turn to newer, faster and more user-friendly  communications alternatives.”   This should come as no surprise to anyone, but clearly it is already having a profound effect on manufacturers and distributors in this $41 billion industry. 

Excerpts of the Unity Marketing study printed on Newswire find young adults (age 25-to-34), are looking for alternatives to traditional paper cards and that, “Social Media” – notably Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – could be the future for this generation to send greetings.   Organizers of the National Stationery Show seem to be leading the way for this new adventure in digital correspondence. 

I have not read the report ($3,500 is a bit out of my league), but Ms. Danzinger segments her market into four “psychographic” groups with the “alternative seeker” comprising the largest segment.  I have no idea whether Ms. Danzinger coined these definitions or whether these are generally accepted academic terms describing social behavior.  In any event, I find the term “alternative seeker” rather vague and somewhat akin to “alpha female” or “Yuppie.”  Presumably, if you are marketing an “alternative seeker” you must have some idea where he or she is today. 

The compelling argument(s) for shifting from paper correspondence to digital communication is cost and efficiency.  It costs virtually nothing to send out “greetings” or “tweets” to your contacts and followers and this can be done so with a minimum of effort.  The question is:  If it costs nothing and is easy to do, does it have any value? 

In purely economic terms, if there is an unlimited supply of a product that costs nothing or virtually nothing to produce (i.e. air)  it has little perceived value to a buyer.  Why pay for something that is free?   Newpapers who give their content away for free online cannot be surprised that paid circulation and advertising revenue is declining rapidly. 

Without looking too hard into the crytal ball and trying to interpret what “alternative behavior” market segments will do, I believe that the end is in sight for companies that sell “paper stationery” online.   The justification is simple:  Why should I go online to purchase paper stationery when I can just as easily go online to send digital correspondence for free and with far less hassle?  In other words, once you are committed to the online experience, why go half-way?  Sure, some better known greeting card companies that provide digital stationery and invitations will survive simply collecting affilitate income and advertising revenue from those obnoxious ads that accompany most emails and “free” digital communication. 

Paper companies that continue to invest in quality products and designs may be forced to contract, but overtime they will become the value proposition to “alternative seekers” who eventually decide that “cheap” and “efficient” may send the wrong message for job interviews, getting married or annual holiday greeting cards.  I certainly hope so.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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