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The trends, the issues, and productive business strategies.

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Digital or Hard-Copy Scrapbooks?

Is one better than the other? Or is there a "best of both worlds" solution?

by CLN Subscribers (July 3,  2006)

(Note: The June 19 issue of CLN included a report by the New York Times which said the new wave of scrapbooking is digital rather than hard copy; it that is true, it could spell trouble for retailers selling paper, albums, and embellishments. We asked readers to tell us if a) the Times article is true and b) how retailers should respond to their computer-happy customers. And to make this collection more thought-provoking, CLN will act as a devil's advocate and comment after each reader's thoughts.)

A Creative Outlet.

Personally, I scrapbook not only to preserve my family's memories, but also for a creative outlet. After spending 8+ hours at work in front of a computer, the last thing I want to do is spend more time with the computer at home. Instead, I head to my scrapbook table and get creative with paper, scissors, adhesive, etc. I would think with our technology-driven society that others would want this creative break as well. – Nicole Hoch, Editor, The ScrapBook Club, F+W Publications

CLN Responds: We feel exactly the same way after sitting in front of a computer all day, but consumers who've grown up with so much technology may not feel the need to escape from it, and may like channeling their creativity through a computer.

A View from Australia.

When you create a scrapbook page, a mini-book, etc., you’re creating a personal record of your family today for the future generations. It is a tangible keepsake than can held, touched, looked at, and sadly for some, it will be one of the only creations that someone dear to them left behind that was created with their own hands.

Just spare a thought for your ancestors looking back on their great grandmother’s family historical record (your scrapbooking projects). How much more emotion and personal touch is there in something that someone can hold, feel, and look at that you created with your own hands?

Can the same be said about a digital scrapbooking page? Personally, I don’t believe so. – Mark Ripper, CEO, Helmar Australia Pty Ltd

CLN Responds: We don't think so either, but younger consumers – the future – may disagree.

Touching Ephemera.

You can’t put all of the original ephemera (tickets, award ribbons, programs) on a digital page. You can scan them, but copies are just not the same as the originals. – Laurie Dambrosio

CLN Responds: Good point!

The Real Deal.

Hard-copy scrapbooks are the real deal. I use the computer for special effects on photos and text, but that is all. I don't scrapbook because I need to and therefore want speed. I scrapbook for the love of my family and friends, for the pure joy of creating something with my own hands, for the smiles and admiration my pages bring others. I love lumpy, bumpy pages and enjoy running my fingers over the beads, buttons, and more that I put on my pages.

My grandkids love the tactile nature of my pages. They smile as they touch the sand, beads, dried and silk flowers, leather tags, and more. They giggle over how "mamo" made little acrylic water splashes on their pages of slippery slide layouts.

Doing everything digital might look pretty, but would be no more fun than just looking at a book or a magazine. The textile (and sometimes smell) is part of the memory. I'll never stop making my hard-copy scrapbooks. – Dianna Longoria, Jennis Group

CLN Responds: If making a family scrapbook was the only item a consumer had on her "to do" list, then yes, time/speed would not be a factor. The texture of a hard-copy scrapbook is wonderful, but for generations from now, a digital album is better than nothing.

Playing Both Ways.

Why do consumers have to choose? Most of us eat meals at home and in restaurants, wear inexpensive clothes mixed in with the occasional splurge, and mail holiday cards and Valentines as well as last-minute email greetings. Most people don't feel the need to narrow our choices. The more we can broaden consumers' choices, the better.

After all, the person who starts with an online album can also own a nice leather album filled with heavily embellished pages for those times when she is sitting on the sofa with friends and family.

You can help your customer make tiny albums a) to tuck into her husband's suitcase when he is deployed in the military or heads off on a business trip, b) to send to camp in a child's duffle bag, or c) to give as a birthday gift to a friend for a milestone birthday. Even if you send them email, too.

Just because her first layouts were digital doesn't mean she won't also love paper and prints. Young brides who plan their weddings and honeymoons online still cherish traditional albums. Small children who spend hours at a computer still want to cuddle, poring over the pages that document their activities. Teens who wear out their thumbs on text messages still like making cards, banners, and posters.

Introduce this audience to scrapbooking supplies in ways they already embrace, and even if they don't make albums you've sold a lot of merchandise. Or if you look at it differently, a banner is a scrapbook, only long and narrow instead of made of pages.

Computers connect people in ways that nothing else can. I can show a photo of a puppy to a friend in Norway in a matter of seconds. That said, I've never read a story to a child from a computer screen. For that, I turn to lap and rocker, just like my grandmother.

I think the trick is to make sure that no one thinks they have to be "either-or" about the whole issue. The more time people spend in a virtual world, the more valuable the tangible one becomes.

I think it's risky to say one is better. Making that kind of judgment sets up a divide instead of building something that can include a lot of different pieces. It implies that you have to make a choice and that there is only one choice.

I'd much rather have a store owner say to me "Here are some great ways to spend time with friends and family" than say this kind of album is better than what you might be doing at a computer. Having a personal web site, online album, AND a thick, juicy album with pages from the last twenty Christmas celebrations, AND a mini album with photos from soccer camp, AND a series of framed album pages in the den, AND a magnet backed-scrapbook page on the fridge ALL go hand in hand.

Picture a little boy sitting at the computer playing games. Then picture him running around the room with a paper crown he's made from construction paper and leaves on his head. He can play both ways. Now picture his mom sending photos to a college friend via the computer. Then picture her sitting in your classroom making an accordion book filled with those very same photographs to give to her mother for her birthday. We can play both ways, too! – Judi Kauffman, Deborah M, Inc.

CLN Responds: Wonderful, wise thoughts. The challenge for retailers is convince consumers, especially younger potential customers, that they need more than computers for a fulfilling experience.

If You Can't Beat 'Em ....

Scrapbook manufacturers might want to consider "if you can't beat em', join em'" as a product mix strategy and offer options for the digital scrapbooker as well hard lines for the traditional scrapbooker. Every designer and manufacturer out there who has a scrapbook program could develop a package of coordinating digital templates. This complimentary digital product can be designed to support traditional papers and embellishments so that non-traditional products are still being pushed.

A whole new product could be introduced to the industry, a hybrid scrapbook. The consumer can create a digital scrapbook but also embellish by hand. This hybrid undercuts the objection of "It's too time consuming." The crafter can spend as little or as much time as desired on the hand embellishments.

Think of the design time saved by the manufacturer. Much of the product is already designed. No need to reinvent the wheel. Just take your bestsellers and do a line extension of digital templates. Of course, a top-notch computer department is critical as the software must work as promised.

For those who are concerned that this still cuts into actual product sales, they are right. But for those consumers who will not consider non-digital options – and they do exist – a hybrid product would sell some product to these folks rather than no product at all.

Marketing is a key issue for digital product. Traditional in-store displays won't necessarily reach these consumers. These are folks who blog, podcast, etc. – a different animal entirely than the traditional crafter.

The industry has also often positioned itself on "acid free", "archival," etc. However, there are scrapbookers who are not concerned with longevity. These tend to be the younger scrapbookers. You can't get them to wear sunscreen either. – Michelle Temares

CLN Responds: But can the retailer sell enough to stay in business?

Vintage Photos.

My primary reason for scrapbooking is to "do something" with the filled magnetic albums and boxes of old photos I have from my family, my husband’s family, and, to a lesser degree, of my own young children. We have a digital camera, so most digital photos we take of our kids end up on a shared site (specifically, Shutterfly.com). However, we’re always getting the doubles of cute photos of our kids for grandmas, aunts, and other folks who haven’t yet gone the digital-camera route. And even in this so-called "digital age," we are still ordering hard copies of soccer team photos, ballet recital photos, school year photos, etc. We get similar pictures from our nieces, nephews, and our friends’ children. All of these are on my "to-do" list for albums!

I think there’s room for both types of scrapbooking, but retailers should play up the angle of caring for vintage photos. For example, I recently took my grandparents’ wedding photos (circa 1945) out of a magnetic album and into a 12x12 book. I interviewed my widowed grandmother, who is now in a nursing home, for details about the wedding – who was in her wedding party, how she got her dress, etc., and journaled that throughout the pages. I’ve think the DéjB Vu brand is a nice example of how to cater to people looking to preserve family heritage this way.

I also prefer the look of handwritten journaling over typed fonts. The latter may be easier to do and read, but doesn’t reflect the character of someone’s own handwriting. – Heather Gooch, Vice President, Gooch & Gooch, www.goochandgooch.com

CLN Responds: the vintage photo idea is a good one. Yes, old photos can be scanned but then what – throw away the originals?

Showing Guests.

Our company is not in scrapbooking, but my wife is an avid scrapbooker. One of the greatest pleasures she has is when we have company and one of our guest picks up one of her photo scrapbooks of our family. These coffee-table pieces are treasured heirlooms. Digital photo albums just don't provide this same spontaneous enjoyment. Both hardbound and digital scrapbooks have a place in our future. I don't believe the later will replace the former but will simply complement it. – Jan Kahn, Caron International

CLN Responds: Yes, who wants to crowd around a computer at a social gathering?

The Joy of Creating.

The answer is simple and easy; it's the hands-on making of the scrapbooks that is the biggest reason for not doing them online. But of course doing them online is also a creative process and should also be included in our industry's offerings. It's not being a "family historian" or making gifts, or making "things" that inspire people to do crafts. When we get right down to it, the basic reason for scrapbooking (or doing any craft or art project) is the creative process, not the product.

We just love the process of creating, and that is what our industry should be selling. With that in mind, every creative process should be honored, no matter how simple or kitchy, elaborate or elegant. Let's get together and give everyone permission to be creative and they will discover how wonderful it makes them feel!

Okay, a bit corny, but I strongly feel that if we can get people to be more creative, it will improve their lives – and really grow our industry (all aspects, not just the 'hot trends'). – Marie Browning, Marie Browning Creates

CLN Responds: Marie is absolutely right, but how does a store project an image as the center for creativity?

Both Have a Place.

For the sake of Westrim’s new Digital Designs product launching at CHA, I am hoping that people see the benefits of being able to quickly assemble an album, then duplicate it to satisfy an entire bridal party, scout troop, or family reunion group. But nothing can replace a dimensional album, filled with details, ticket stubs, dried flowers, and other memories.

How else can a parent save a newborn baby bracelet from the hospital, a lock of hair, and all those other trinkets? Not to mention that after hours at work on the computer, a little hi-touch combats the fatigue of hi-tech.

I can knit either by hand or machine; while knitting by hand may be slower, it always feels better. The owner of my favorite knitting shop in Studio City, CA just invented needles with tiny lights in the tips – for knitting in the movies, or in dimly lit areas – apparently Clover will be distributing these semi-hi-tech needles. – Terri Seiden, Marketing Communications Manager, Creativity Inc. (Autumn Leaves, Blue Moon Beads, Crop In Style, DMD, Westrim)

CLN Responds: But will the younger generation learn the pleasures of "hands-on" rather than just moving a mouse?

Our instant society.

1. Emotional. In visiting workshops and cropping parties, I see the emotional angle to scrapbooking. In my view, true scrapbookers aren't as interested in "getting the job done quickly" as they are with preserving a moment in time with a special flair and accent. You cut the grass or wash the car to "get it done."

2. Sociable. The sociable part of scrapbooking is almost like a marriage of cultures as people always leave cropping parties with new friends and new ideas. I can picture a cropping party with 600 laptops, stacks of CD's, and nobody saying a word, just clicking away.

3. Safety. The opportunity for problems to arise from digital scrapbooking is greater than using the hard-copy approach. Computer viruses, media format changes (anybody remember the 8-inch floppy disk?) and materials used to print a copy of the scrapbook could be some of the challenges a casual scrapbooker would face.

However, we live in an instant results society: coaches are fired who don't turn programs into winners in three years or less; instant messaging versus the personal contact of a phone call; and email cards versus Hallmark. Today people want Michelangelo's results in the time it takes to drive to work.

The bottom line is you will always have people who prefer to take the easy way out. This is not a condemnation of that approach, but merely a question of personal satisfaction. There really is not any wrong way to scrapbook, as long as you are using safe products. The question becomes your personal satisfaction with the results and the level of enjoyment you've experienced scrapbooking. – Tom Vasko, VP-Sales, North America, 3L Corporation www.scrapbook-adhesives.com

CNA Responds: Hard-copy scrapbooking is getting an image that it's time-consuming and complicated. How do retailers explain to the non-believers that scrapbooking can be as quick and easy as the crafter wants it to be?

A List.

Although I think digital scrapbooking will have its place, I don’t think it will replace hard-copy scrapbooking because of the following reasons:

Scrapbook crops and private parties need to be hands-on because no one is going to supply everyone with computers and printers. Also, most people who go to these activities are into the craft of it and the touchy feely-ness of hands-on scrapbooking. People like layers and dimension which you don’t get with digital scrapbooking.

Furthermore, I haven’t seen a company really offer all the pieces and programs that digital scrapbookers would need to do digital scrapbooking very easily. Consider:

1. Photoshop is not an easy program to learn to use.

2. Do any 12 x12 printers really print the quality scrapbookers want? It's way too expensive to purchase the printers that are top quality. Some companies offer pre-done books, but they are expensive.

3. Middle-aged consumers (the main consumer base in scrapbooking) are generally still not comfortable with computers and are not computer-savvy enough to take on digital scrapbooking.

4. Twentysomethings who are more computer savvy may push the industry in the digital direction, but it will not replace the real thing, because the fun of scrapbooking is the craft as well as the social interaction.

5. Digital scrapbookers would have to spend big chunks of money on software, printers, computers etc. To buy hard-copy scrapbook supplies, they buy smaller pieces. They may eventually spend a lot of money, but it doesn’t seem like as much.

6. The thing that makes a craft survive and live instead of just being a fad is that it fills several basic human needs. First, it is an artistic outlet; second, it fills a social need; and third, it creates something of value to the crafter. Quilting is an example of a craft that has survived because it fills all those human needs. Digital scrapbooking leaves out the social aspect. Although it may have its place, I don’t think it will replace regular scrapbooking. – Karen Foster, Karen Foster Design

CLN Responds: Crop parties have been called the quilting bee of the 21st century.

Tech-savvy Kids.

While I am not in the scrapbook business, this hit home for me. My daughter is 15 and just came back from a Christian camp called Sky Ranch in Texas. My daughter returned with several projects in mind. She wanted to start reading the Bible (I was shocked, but she said, "I’ve read everything else in the house.") She also wanted to make a scrapbook for her favorite counselor. Over the years we have bought a fair amount of scrapbook supplies, but her baby book stopped at about year 3. It is a lot of work to get it all out, sort the pictures, and such. Once a year, we try again to update it, but maybe finish one page.

But I was game, so I pulled out a magazine, Simple Scrapbooks. I like it because it emphasizes just two things – the photo itself and the journaling. Not much on tags, ribbons, busy backgrounds, etc. I thought my daughter could do a lot with her camp pictures and some Bible verse for the counselor.

Two days later, I came back and she had composed two pages – on the computer. Now, we don’t have scrapbook software. She had done this with other tools we have (Microsoft Word and some photo editing software). She wanted her counselor to know about her as well as about the camp experience, so she surfed through my computer finding photos she could use. The pages were very nice – simple, sophisticated, and carrying out a theme in both subject and color.

So we have a newbie with access to a fair amount of supplies, who has decided in the first instance to design using the computer. She says she’ll print it out and glue it to the nice acid-free, unused scrapbook we have lying around, but I doubt it. She has it just the way she likes it on the computer.

If I was really concerned about durability and permanence, I’d wait until she had a half dozen pages, and then we’d get the photos printed professionally (assuming I can find the negatives or the photos) and then buy paper that matches her color scheme so that she could manually duplicate her pages. But this book is a gift, and I assume the recipient isn’t really interested in keeping a camper scrapbook forever. She could probably just print and mail it and get the desired effect.

So just like you pull on your experiences with your wife Barbara the new jewelry designer, I pull on my experiences with my daughter (also Barbara) the new scrapbooker (a 15-year-old, the new generation). She has tried and quit beading and we have $100 of supplies in a closet. So I am thrilled that this new project can inspire creativity without separating me from $100.

As a retailer, of course, my goal would be to separate as many people from $100 as I could. But my daughter lives on the computer. I’d probably be pushing my newbies to compose online, then reproduce the design in safe, permanent, and tactile materials. I’d probably be looking at ribbons and threads (they lie flat, but add tactile dimension to the 2D experience of the computer.)

But frankly, all this stuff makes the scrapbooks, well, scrappy and my daughter didn’t respond well to that. She wanted it clean and a bit edgy. So I’m not sure the market can support all these image designers any more than the cross stitch market could support every homemaker that wanted to turn her designs into a viable cross stitch pattern business. Many tried, few succeeded. We can’t all make money at our craft or at our passion, and that’s just how it is. – Catherine Bracken, Discount Needlework.com

CLN Responds: Daughters like Catherine's are what we're afraid of, and need to attract if our scrapbook stores are to survive long-term.

Don't Ignore Digital.

Maybe the Times article is a realistic wake up call to the industry? As an industry, we had better not ignore this. Digi-anything is NOT going away any time soon, and yes, they will continue to generate new forms to a point, in the not so distant future, where they are three-dimensional, like our favorite scrapbooks.

The question should be, "What can we do to integrate digital scrapbooking into our offerings and take advantage of this movement?" not "Why hard copy is better than computer versions." This is evolution rather than a trend, and it really can not be stopped.

To put it into perspective, let’s look at what happened with photography. My family started with the studio shots back in the 1800’s done on tintype in some fancy studio. Then they went to field shots taken by a family member who was fortunate enough to be the town’s newspaper guy. Circa 1940, my grandparents bought their first camera and carried it around like a fourth child. This setup required the assistance of a commercial film processor only – no do-it-yourself here. Those films are fragile, over 60 years old, and we are paying a fortune to change them to DVD format.

Then along comes Polaroid, by-passing the expensive film processing, but not too "archival." Most of my family's Polaroids look like altered art at this point, but then they are about 30-some years old as well.

With my children, came camcorders. We have no photos from this era; we were too busy taking movies of the little ones' first "everything." We are thinking that we will next have to buck up and pay for all of this to be transformed to a DVD – unless I spend a few days on my hands and knees with video input-and-output cables from the VCR to my laptop, (which incidentally cost less than the camera and VCR tape player individually) – which I am NOT doing.

My 24 year old knows how to translate all of this to something that can be used by his iPod, so he can show the hysterical home movies (generated from real movie film) of my husband in his Howdy Dowdy outfit, shooting BB’s at the neighborhood cat invaders. This is funny to him because he used electronic BB’s to shoot at space invaders and aliens with his Atari system.

And here we are discussing ways to sell against digital scrapbooking technology? Why don’t we integrate it? Independents, for under $ 1,500, can set up techno-scrap craft area. They could feature oversized printers and other tools the average consumer is not ready to invest in. Real crops become computer lab time and perhaps, you can use embellishments or rubber stamps to take the hobby and INTEGRATE it into traditional products and materials would evolve. ADD it to your offerings.

Selling against it would alienate you from a big number of consumers – a younger, newer, "next generation" of customers. Scrapbooking is a highly personal craft and if you expect to make money or stay in business you must INTEGRATE technology into your market offerings. Maybe your website should consider offering branded electronic product?

Maybe you can get a young adult to work part-time teaching computer basics and you can help your consumer get up to speed? Maybe you can offer an entire department of digital-friendly materials; if the scrapbook is on a disk – the disk needs a snappy creative cover made from paper. For that matter, maybe you start to offer CD’s where once you offered organic papers.

How about offering a website that your customers can use to download files for their digital scrap booking needs? Maybe you pay a graphic designer to develop your branded line of digital stuff? Maybe just download some digital art stamps™ from crafterstudio, and with your wholesale license, offer them to your clients? Lots of people can drop the pictures into the files, but not everyone can create the embellishments or the "feel" of the graphics that they easily can with paper.

Whatever we offer to our retail partners, it should be in line with how the rest of the world thinks. We can not change the world, but the world can change us. Trying to sell against digital scrapbooking instead of recognizing it and effectively integrating it all of our businesses, would just be a recipe for obsolescence.

But if you must:

"Why Paper Scrapbooking is better than Digital Scrapbooking":

1. The entire tactile sense of scrapbooking is missed when it is digital; you can not "feel" the memory.

2. DVD’s have their own set of "archival" features/care requirements that require full attention as well as environmental control.

3. No "back up" copy of your work is required with the paper version. (Although many hurricane victims would likely argue this point. A digital back up, in New England, for example, would have allowed them to still have their precious pictures and journaling – regardless of the weather.)

4. Hard-copy scrapbooking consumes more time than digital scrapbooking.

5. Digital scrapbooking requires some pretty advanced computer skills – more than emailing.

6. Did paper cards go away when e-cards became available? In fact, it became a new craft sub-category.

7. Most people (over the age of 40) do not think of the computer as a craft tool; it is more like the ATM at the bank – a necessary evil – this works in favor of paper scrapping, for now.

8. The "focus" of it changes from hobby and leisure to yet another computer maintenance "chore" to be performed (for some).

Then if you are pro-digital, you are likely to hear:

1. No storage space required for digital scrapbooking.

2. You can ‘take it’ with you with little need for anything but a key stick – anywhere. Just try to take a pair of scissors on a plane.

3. Computer scrapbooking is cheaper, after the initial investment of equipment; the only ongoing investment is paper, ink and CD’s if you share the results.

4. It is user friendly for sharing. Do you want to lug 10 pounds of paper to your mother's across the country to show her the baby’s first spaghetti dinner?

5. Digital scrapbooking is less time consuming that paper scrapping.

6. You can add music or voice-overs for journaling as well as the written words.

7. You can make multiple copies without purchasing multiple sets of supplies.

8. You can resize it to fit your paper needs.

9. Requires no hands-on capability.

10. Great results regardless of crafting ability. – Ann Krier, Crafter Studio www.crafterstudio.com

CLN Responds: Ann has touched all the bases!

Touch it.

My instinct tells me people don't just want to look at a photo album. They want to touch it. I would venture that if you conducted a focus group and observed individuals looking at hard-copy and digital scrapbooks, individuals would be observed touching the pages, running their fingers across pictures and embellishments. There's got to be some psychological connection that is easily made holding the albums, versus clicking through pages using a mouse. – Jennie Stagliano, Marketing Communications Manager, Glue Dots International

CLN Responds: Yes, but does the younger generation insist on touching the pages, or are they enthralled with the special effects a computer can produce?

(Note: Want to add your thoughts to the discussion? (This topic will not be going away anytime soon.) Email CLN at www.clnonline.com. To read previous Memory entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column.



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PROBLEMS LOOM FOR SCRAPBOOK RETAILERS...But there are some common sense solutions.


AN INTERVIEW WITH SUE DIFRANCO; Candid talk on the state and future of scrapbooking.

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS FOR SCRAPBOOK RETAILERS; Strategies to make 2004 more profitable and enjoyable.

PAPER:THE NEW FOUNDATION; Allows scrapbookers to go beyond scrapbooking.

INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA JOSEPH; Blunt talk about challenges, trends, and the future.


SCRAPBOOKING STILL SHOWING STRONG GROWTH; New study pegs market at $1.2 billion.

SCRAPBOOK RETAILERS & CRAFTER'S HOME; How joining forces can help independents survive and prosper

SO, WHO'S AFRAID OF MICHAELS?; It's way, way too early to panic.