KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Say it's your birthday or you've just had a baby, maybe got engaged or bought your first house. If you're like many Americans, your friends are texting their congratulations, sending you an e-card or clicking "like" on your Facebook wall.
But how many will send a paper greeting card?
"I'm really, really bad at it," said Melissa Uhl, 25, a nanny from Kansas City, Mo., who hears from friends largely through Facebook. "Maybe," she said, "an e-card from my mom."
Once a staple of birthdays and holidays, paper greeting cards are fewer and farther between — now seen as something special, instead of something that's required. The cultural shift is a worrisome challenge for the nation's top card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc., which last week announced it will close a Kansas plant that made one-third of its greeting cards. In consolidating its Kansas operations, Kansas City-based Hallmark plans to shed 300 jobs.
Pete Burney, Hallmark's senior vice president who overseas production, says "competition in our industry is indeed formidable" and that "consumers do have more ways to connect digitally and online and through social media."
Over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion annually, by Hallmark's estimates. The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group based in White Plains, N.Y., puts the overall-sold figure at 7 billion.
Even the paper cards people buy have changed. Many people now use online photo sites to upload images and write their own greetings. High-end paper stores are attracting customers who design their own cards, sometimes using graphics software once available only to professionals.
"What Hallmark started with met the needs of the consumers in that early 20th century period to mass produce these personal greeting cards with art and poems and the only way you could communicate was by mail essentially," said Pam Danziger, who analyzes the industry as president of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing. "It's no surprise that in the 21st century, with so many other communication vehicles available, that the old idea of a greeting card being sent by mail just doesn't work any more."
According to a U.S. Postal Service study, correspondence such as greeting cards fell 24 percent from 2002 to 2010. Invitations alone dropped nearly 25 percent just from 2008 to 2010.
Judith Martin, author of the syndicated Miss Manners column, says she thinks the move away from mass-produced sentiment isn't all bad.
"The most formal situations still require something written," she said. "The least formal are easily taken care of with texting or email, which is terrific. The idea that it has to be all one or all the other, and that one method is totally out of date and the other one takes over until the next thing comes along just impoverishes the ways that we can use these different things."