How Facebook killed the Christmas card

Is there any point to this holiday tradition, now that the social network gives us nonstop status updates, photo postings and online chats?

By Jason Notte Dec 14, 2012 1:39PM

Image: Couple with laptop (Corbis)This was once the season that filled mailboxes with family photos and stories and email inboxes with greetings and party invitations. No more.


Thanks, Facebook (FB).


Time Magazine writer Nina Burleigh recently bemoaned the death of her family holiday photo card and admitted Facebook's role in its demise. Her hundreds of friends and relatives could see every photo and update instantly throughout the year and could catch whatever action they were missing on Shutterfly, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube and myriad other outlets of self expression, thus nullifying any posed photo or annual update she could send.


Her family's holiday story is now that of a generation, thanks largely to Facebook.


The social media site has little more than 1 billion users, just bought killer photo app Instagram this year, doesn't limit the number of photos you can host and can dish out invitations and notifications for events and track them on its calendar. That would be imposing under ordinary circumstances, but throw in an economic downturn that makes consumers leery of spending extra money or effort on anything and you have a holiday disaster in the making.


Family cards felt the pain almost immediately. According to Unity Marketing, the percentage of consumers buying Christmas cards fell from 77% in 2007 to 62% in 2009. That year, the Greeting Card Association industry group said greeting card companies sold 1.8 billion Christmas cards. By 2011, that card count had dropped to 1.5 billion. Companies like American Greetings and Hallmark Cards -- which account for half the card sales in the U.S. -- have put lights, voice recorders and online features into their cards to try to draw consumers interest. Even Internet-based companies have had to step up their efforts in recent years, with Shutterfly letting folks post a sneak-peek of their photo cards and albums to Facebook.


It doesn't help when your means of delivery is collapsing beneath you. This holiday season, the Postal Service expects to deliver 365 million packages -- up 20% from 2011. It's expected to send along nearly 18 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. It's also a financial mess that reported a $15.9 billion loss for the last fiscal year. Of that, $5 billion came from a decline in mail revenue as volume decreased from more than 168 billion pieces of mail last year to fewer than 160 billion pieces this year.


If all of those updates and photos are shrinking the holiday mail pile, one look at the growing numbers next to Facebook's notification globe should provide some idea of where all that personal holiday e-mail went as well. If inboxes across America are a glut of online shopping notifications, receipts and little else this season, Facebook can take credit for that, too.


It's been six years since Facebook began allowing events and event invitations, but it must feel like a decade ago to most folks thinking of the last time they sent out an Evite. By the time Facebook events cropped up in 2006, Evite was already being slammed by Huffington Post as outdated. The next year, Time placed it on a list of the Internet's five worst websites. By the time Liberty Media (LMCA) bought Evite from Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp (IACI) in 2010, it was as much of an afterthought as a neglected Friendster profile.


For all the griping about Facebook, its privacy issues, its Zynga (ZNGA)-game based economy and how relatively quiet the whole network has become in the few years, it's eliminated a bunch of steps from the average online American's holiday season. That it's eliminated some business, services, traditions and personal contact in the process puts a bit of a damper on that efficient holiday cheer.


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11Comments
Dec 14, 2012 1:58PM
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Facebook is the Anti-Christ....they will do more to destroy individual freedoms and personal safety than any other organization, second only to the FBI and CIA.   
Dec 14, 2012 3:10PM
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Twinkies can only be saved if they are 'made in the USA'.
Dec 14, 2012 4:14PM
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It couldn't be the ever rising cost of stamps to send card through the mail and the fact that sending a card over the internet is free could it?  Times are tough and people need to cut pointless spending wherever they can.
Dec 14, 2012 3:11PM
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What I was on the Twinkies story and they put me here.???????
Dec 14, 2012 4:53PM
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Fakebook has killed a lot of things!
Dec 17, 2012 12:16PM
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The author of this article makes some fundamental errors in correlating the impact of Facebook with the alleged decline in greeting cards. First it would be necessary to establish that Facebook was the only variable to impact greeting card sales from 2007-2009 and therefore assume that the second largest recession in the history of this nation had no effect.

 

Secondly, USPS Household Diary studies reflect remarkable stability in greeting card volumes during this same period. While card volumes declined slightly due to the recession, other mail types such as bill payments declined precipitously.

 

The increasing ubiquity of Facebook and the fact that it requires the viewer to make the effort to connect makes the impact of receiving a card more special, not less. Indeed, Facebook users own jargon refers to a certain class of friends as "card-worthy." Facebook will not doom greeting cards any more than, e-mail or the telephone did. Indeed, all of the technical innovations that make routine communicating effortless, heighten the emotional impact of giving and receiving cards.

Dec 15, 2012 1:19PM
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I still send out cards. I think I use about 40 stamps a year mostly for cards. I think our society is loosing a lot of personal interaction because of social media. Shouldn't it be called anti-social media? People text instead of call or just post things they want people to know on Facebook. I hate Facebook! I have real concerns over privacy. I don't care what you ate for lunch, I don't have time to help you feed your animals, if I didn't like you in high school why would I want to be friends now! There was a poll about Facebook's earlier this week on MSN. It had something to do with improved security or privacy. I was surprised to learn that 39% of the people who took part in the poll said they don't have a Facebook account. I hope becomes 100%!!!

 

Dec 14, 2012 6:15PM
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We still send out cards....Lots of 'em.
Dec 14, 2012 3:27PM
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AB InBev is the General Motors of this decade.  Beer is about taste, quality and character which InBev has gone out of their way to make bland, dull and pointless. Beck's is but one example of once quality import beer that is now made in the US at the AB plants. Interestingly enough they still charge you the import price for it. AB InBev has gone on a cost cutting spree on everything from the hops and barley to the brew meisters. Granted this extensive cost cutting has gone a long way toward improving the bottom line and making the share holders happy what happens at the end of the cost cutting when you have acquired all the other brands you can and lost all the brewing mastery of past generations. As with GM I see the ultimate demise of the beer giant that is make the equivalent of the Chevrolet Cavalier and trying to pass it  off as the Cadillac Cimarron. People know junk even when you try to dress it up and pass it as something it isn't and it isn't quality.  GM didn't worry about Honda or Toyota and I doubt that AB InBev is worrying much about the craft brewers. To bad for them and long live taste quality and character of the craft brewers! May the are of brewing never be lost! 
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