Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Long Tail of the Social Stationery Market

Personalized Triple Thick Stationery from Minnie & Emma Correspondence
Personalized Triple Thick Stationery from Minnie & Emma
When I first encountered Chris Anderson's The Long Tail in 2006, I told my work associates that it was the most important business book that I had read in a decade. Anderson predicted that the nearly unlimited product choices available in online media services like iTunes and Rhapsody would not only transform the music industry, but also impact the future of all businesses.

Rhapsody was eclipsed by Pandora which is suffering at the hands of Spotify, but the basic premise was completely accurate. Today, no matter what you want, someone makes it, Google will find it for you and Amazon will get it to you in two days with free shipping.

It has taken longer for the Long Tail effect to impact the social stationery market. Just a few years ago, when people wanted to send out a card or write a quick note, they would pick up something from a Hallmark store, a discount store or an office supply store. You had to live with the limited number of designs those outlets carried.

HP Indigo Presses are used for on-demand printing at Black River Imaging
Today you can match your card and notepad to your personality and even your mood. Hundreds of specialty boutiques, online stationers, even Etsy shops supply unique and personalized stationery and gifts. These companies are able to provide such a wide variety of choice because of the on-demand printing capability of the digital press.

Before the digital press, the only way to reduce the unit cost of a printed item, was to increase the number units printed. To launch a new stationery brand required a gigantic investment in inventory along with storage space and a distribution network to move the items to the retailers. To keep these expenses manageable, companies limited the number of different designs to those that had the most general appeal. Most social stationery companies still operate that way.

The New Dime Store in Brookside, Missouri
The New Dime Store offers unique stationery by Ann Page
On-demand printing allows a stationery brand to launch without any investment in inventory. They can focus on design and sales without printing anything beyond a few samples.  When the orders begin to arrive, they print exactly what is needed and send it to the store or the final customer. Without worries about inventory build up, they can offer a greater number of standard designs and customize designs to fit the regional tastes or the preferences of a particular store.

Minnie & Emma Correspondence is a perfectly example of this new trend. Created by a group of New York City designers who love smart design and clever execution, they offer luxury stationery and gifts that allow "you to communicate in a simple and tasteful way." They encourage their customers to "push the envelope and work with our designers to create something unique."

Thank you card by Minnie & Emma Correspondence
Thank you card by Minnie & Emma Correspondence
What personalized items have you ordered lately?

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Gateway to the Artistic
Print Can Be Art
A Tale of Two Offsets