The trends, the issues, and productive business
Stop Worrying about Digital Scrapbooking...
... And worry about printing photos instead.
by Sharon Cooke, Owner, Scrapbook Clubhouse, Westbrook, CT (September
I own a scrapbooking store, and I have been a traditional
scrapbooker for a long time. I also know how to scrapbook digitally
and I sometimes scrapbook digitally for a bit of fun. These are my
credentials for the message that follows, which is that all this
talk about digital scrapbooking sweeping the world is just a red
Let me bluntly state part of my core conviction at the very
beginning: if digital scrapbooking takes over from traditional
scrapbooking, scrapbooking retailers, both large and small, are
sunk. The very nature of digital scrapbooking makes it impossible to
offer anything that would even begin to keep our businesses afloat.
But – and my fellow scrapbookers can breathe again – digital
scrapbooking is not going to take over from traditional, no matter
how many articles you may have read to the contrary.
To understand why digital scrapbooking is not a tsunami waiting
to happen, we need to look at two earlier technological predictions
widely believed to have been accurate at the time they were made.
The first, which many of us will remember from the 1980's when
personal computers were first becoming popular, was "the
paperless office." As word processing and then computerized
spreadsheets and then databases came into every office and more and
more homes, the pundits predicted the end of the paper industry.
Younger people among my readers may be dumbfounded to hear this,
but it's true. Manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers at the time
were warned to get out of the paper business before they went
bankrupt. Of course I don't have to tell anyone that the prediction
turned out to be utterly wrong and that offices today, far from
being paperless, now use exponentially more paper than ever before.
Anyone who got out of the paper business in the 1980's has probably
jumped off a cliff by now.
The other prediction was that film cameras would be quickly
replaced by digital ones. By now we all know that these forecasters
were absolutely right. Less than 15% of photographs today are shot
on film. The question is, why was the prediction about the paperless
office wrong and the one about digital cameras right? It boils down
to this: the pundits forgot to take into question the real nature of
actually using the technology.
I use a digital camera, and I love it. I can see the picture I've
taken immediately and I can shoot with abandon without fear of
wasting expensive film. Other than those two advantages, shooting
pictures with a digital camera is not much different from shooting
with a comparable camera using film. It's essentially the same
experience and requires the same skills. So of course people are
choosing digital over film. You might call it a no-brainer.
But the paperless office is another matter. To read material on a
screen uses a different skill set from reading it on paper. You have
to scroll down through your material, you have to be sitting in
front of your computer to do it, and if it's something that you're
writing yourself, you have to make changes by obliterating what you
had before rather than reading the difference between what is in
your handwriting (the change) and what is in type (the original
After 25 years of word processing, people still need to print a
hard copy of many, many things they read and write on the computer.
(I, for example, am always teaching myself new computer programs but
to use an item in the help articles, I frequently print it out and
put it on the desk in front of me, needing to move my eyes from the
directions on paper up to the screen where I'm learning the skill.)
In short, there is a disorientation inherent in the use of that
keeps people from ever getting used to doing it without lots and
lots of paper.
If you grant me then, that technology that demands too great a
change and too much effort will not succeed over technology that is
easier, you will begin to see what the problem is with digital
scrapbooking: Digital scrapbooking is very difficult to learn. Very.
To create a digital layout that is even remotely as creative and
satisfying as a person with nothing but a three-hour class in
traditional scrapbooking can create easily, a digital scrapbooker
has to study long and hard with confusing, mathematically and
spatially challenging concepts. She needs to understand dpi,
blending modes, layers, brushes, the entire toolbar of Photoshop, to
name only a very few parts of the process.
She needs to own a computer, a scanner, a printer suited to the
size she scraps in, and have a broadband connection to the Internet.
She needs not to be burned out from using a computer at work. She
needs not to have to share the computer with her family because
she's going to have to spend a huge amount of time on that machine.
She needs books and tutoring, and most of all she needs to endure
stunning amounts of frustration because digital scrapbooking
involves skills that have to be learned over and over again and
which are easily forgotten if they are not practiced regularly.
In short, digital scrapbooking is not unlike telling a hobbyist
she ought to give up playing with paper and embellishments and take
up the study of Russian instead. No doubt the latter occupation can
be extremely rewarding, but hey, nobody's doing it.
I have offered classes in Photoshop Elements. I am a teacher by
training so I know how to prepare a lesson carefully, building on
concepts gradually. I give a 90-minute lesson in Photoshop Elements
to four scrapbookers on a very limited aspect of digital
scrapbooking: how to scan a photo, adjust it for color, brightness
or contrast (largely automatic in that program) and enlarge and
print it – something they are highly motivated to do.
I make sure each person not only has hands-on experience in doing
her own scanning and enlarging, but also helps another student
(explaining complex tasks help us learn them better ourselves). At
the end of the class, everybody knows how to do it. I make them
promise me they will practice when they get home because it takes
very little time to forget what they've just learned.
When I see them again, I ask them how it's going. They tell me it
isn't. They couldn't remember how to do it when they got home and
they couldn't stand the process of trying to figure out how to even
phrase the question correctly to get help on the screen. They
happily returned to traditional scrapbooking.
Knitting can be done by a machine. It takes less time and
produces more uniform results. Very few knitters do it that way.
They don't want to be tied to the machine and that's not why they're
in the hobby. What knitting by machine is to the art and hobby of
hand knitting is not even a fraction of the alienation scrapbooking
digitally is to the art and hobby of scrapbooking.
I could, of course, be wrong, but I'm betting quite confidently
that even though a small percentage of scrapbookers will happily
embrace digital, it will never be greater than that; it will never
overcome traditional scrapbooking, and any store owner who starts
reorganizing her business to embrace digi is going to go broke.
Part Two: Printing Photos.
In the first part of my article, I explained why digital
scrapbooking is not going to overtake the traditional form. But
before we all get too comfortable again, I do have to warn that
there is a tsunami that could very well wipe us all out.
When modern scrapbooking got started with home party vendors, a
message of fear helped to spread it. Those photos, we were told, are
not only unloved and unappreciated in those boxes, but they may be
stored in the wrong climactic conditions. One day you may open them
to find the images are all gone or all stuck together without a
negative in sight.
And the ones that are in albums! They're in even greater danger
from extreme temperatures, rampant acidity, and lecherous lignin.
When I first started scrapbooking, I downplayed this message of
fear. Now I wish I could bring it all back in spades. The digital
camera has brought a whole new way of photo storage that is not only
less safe than ever but absolutely uninspiring to the scrapbooker,
and it's the inspired scrapbooker who sustains my current
A woman used to film 36 shots of her child's birthday party and
then send or drop off the film at the photo shop, only to eagerly
await its return when she could relive the party and, if she was a
scrapbooker, could begin to preserve the memories the pictures help
Today, however, she sees the photos she's taken immediately on
the camera and then once again when she dumps them to her computer.
It's all so easy, all so reliable. She can always look at those
photos, she can always decide which of the 300 shots she made that
day are out of focus or repetitive or too dark or too light, and she
can always edit the photos down to a manageable dozen that she might
someday put together as a story of the day itself. Only she doesn't.
You shoot your first 200 pictures on your digital camera and
download them. Then you shoot hundreds more. They are building up
with automatic ease on your computer. The task of evaluating them
and editing them looms more and more daunting every time you
download another bunch. It's much easier just to take more pictures
and put off sorting them.
But you can't scrapbook them until you sort them (this is true
for both traditional and digital photographers). Until you decide
which ones are the best, until you decide which ones help you tell
the story, which ones would make good focal points, which ones
should be enlarged, which ones reduced – you can't possibly decide
how to scrapbook them.
Meanwhile how safe are these photos? Not safe at all. A computer
can lose years of photos (none of which have negatives) in a
nanosecond. A backup drive can fail too. CD-ROMS and DVDs are only
good for a limited amount of time, if at all, as many downloads to
disks will fail when you go to look at them, even though the
computer did not warn you of that at the time. The only way those
pictures can be safe is if they are backed-up immediately to a
secondary hard disk, then uploaded to a remote site. Of course
traditional photos are in danger too. They can be destroyed by flood
or fire, for example, but floods and fires are far less likely to
occur than fatal hard drive crashes, which happen to everyone –
The more photos that are building up on computers with no loving
attention, the less the memories are being preserved. I have photos
from my family of people whom nobody alive today can identify. I'm
saddened every time I see them and wonder who they were and why this
particular photo was worth preserving for so long. Our children and
our children's children aren't going to have any more information
about the thousands and thousands of pictures on our computers, just
perhaps more sadness.
Besides the fact that these photos and the memories they stand
for are in danger of being lost forever, they don't inspire many
pages. A huge majority of scrapbookers can't conceive of a scrapbook
plan unless they have printed photos in their hands. If you've ever
spent any time at a crop, you will see that not one single person
there is scrapping ahead of the development of the pictures into
hard copies. She may be buying supplies ahead of this moment, but
she is not scrapping them.
Unless the photos are printed, fewer and fewer scrapbook pages
are going to be made. Which is a crying shame, not just for the
industry but for the magnificent folk art that this industry serves.
In recent years, the scrapbooking industry has declined. I've seen
that decline chalked up to many factors: digital scrapbooking, the
7-year cycle of any creative hobby, the proliferation of stores and
supplies, too many trade shows, the transition from beginner to
intermediate taking too much time and money, but I don't think any
of these factors contributes to the problem as much as the
ever-increasing number of un-printed photos.
What this industry needs to do, instead of inciting warring camps
around CHA and PMA or worrying about the red herring of digital
scrapbooking, is to focus with laser intensity and precision on
getting our photos off computers and onto paper. This is a campaign
that should have been started years ago, one which the industry
cannot survive without, and one which will benefit absolutely
everyone. From scrapbookers to retailers to manufacturers of
scrapbooking supplies, inks, and photo paper – we all are
desperately in need of change here. Next time you talk to a
colleague, next time you talk to a scrapbooker, next time you talk
to a supplier or a buyer, you better find out what ideas they have
for getting people to understand that their photos are not safe and
that their scrapbooks won't happen if they leave the photos on their
And then we all have to get together and put every idea into
action, because an increase in the number of printed photos will be
an instant and lasting benefit to the industry as a whole. I'm ready
to receive, catalog, and disseminate all your ideas. Email me at email@example.com
or call me at 860-399-4443.
And let's get moving; we haven't got a minute to waste.
(Note: Agree with Sharon? Disagree? Send your thoughts to CLN