For several years now, the accepted conventional wisdom has been that the scrapbook industry has been declining because of technology – specifically, digital cameras and social media. Is that really the case? Yes and no.
Fifteen years ago when I started scrapbooking, film photography was still the norm. I would sit at tables at crops surrounded by women toting their latest envelopes full of pictures fresh from the processing lab that they felt like they needed to “do something” with. They wanted to preserve them for the next generation and put them in a format where they could share them with their friends and family easily. The goal was to have no boxes and stacks of pictures, but instead to have neat and tidy albums that everyone could enjoy and share, and that preserved their photos.
Enter digital photography, and social media.
Suddenly instead of envelopes full of prints, we have folders full of pictures on our hard drives. Out of sight, out of mind – there are no longer physical objects demanding that we “do something” with them. Now, if we want a print, we have to take several proactive steps to create one.
And sharing has changed dramatically too. We can have virtual photo albums on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and any number of other sites, as well as post images on our blogs. We don’t need people to come to our house to see our albums. We bring our photos to our loved ones through their computers, often instantaneously when they are shot through our mobile phones.
So, if we can preserve our photos on our hard drives and share them online, does all of this mean that the world doesn’t need scrapbooking anymore? Absolutely not.
There’s another important function that scrapbooking performs for our photos besides preserving and sharing them. Since there’s no cost to snapping a digital photo, and mobile phones now mean we have cameras always in our pockets, the number of photos taken by most individuals has skyrocketed. A quick look at my catalog index in Adobe Lightroom shows that in the past few years I have averaged taking anywhere between 4,000 and 8,000 photos every year. Someday, these photos will be in the custody of my daughter. How will she know even where to start in determining what is important in a huge archive of potentially hundreds of thousands of images?
The answer is curating. Some of this can be done through technology, with photo ratings and tagging. And ideally, I should go through my library and purge unimportant images. But that only does half of the work of curating, because it doesn’t tell why the remaining images are important. For that, to tell the story of those images, we need scrapbooking. It is my scrapbooks that will tell my daughter the stories behind my most treasured images, what made them special to me.
“Scrapbooking story” has been a trendy buzz phrase for a couple of years now in the scrapbook industry, driven largely by Ali Edwards and her “story” philosophy. “Story” is actually just a consumer-friendly term for curating. So is the term “life artist” that Ali uses (it was even the title of her 2007 book). The overarching idea is to focus on the journaling aspect of a scrapbook.
Ali’s not the only one in the industry focusing on curating. Another popular trend of the moment, Project Life, is also all about curating but streamlined to a simple form. By selecting out photos and memorabilia for an album, and using journaling cards to make notes about them, Project Life-rs are engaged in a basic form of curation of their photography archives.
The entire industry should be embracing this concept not just as a trend, but as a mission. It’s the industry’s reason for existing in an age of technology. We need to evangelize this to our consumers, and share with them the importance of not just preserving and sharing their images, but also curating them. Making that point register in the minds of consumers – that they need to serve as guides to future generations through their photo archives to tell their stories or they will be lost in a flood of digital data – has to be a key focus of the scrapbook industry’s effort to re-invent itself in the post-digital era.
Of course the extreme version of all this focus on story is the current popularity of art journaling, which eliminates the photos altogether in favor of focusing on words and hand done illustrations as an expressive creative outlet. Its popularity leads us to the second method of marketing scrapbooking in the post-digital world: scrapbooking as art. For years, there’s been a distinct divide in the scrapbook community on this philosophy. Especially in the early years of the scrapbook boom, there was something of a stigma attached to creating scrapbook pages for artistic satisfaction among the general scrapbook consumer. “Finished albums” was seen as the driving purpose, and creating for art was seen, by many, as wasteful and navel-gazing.
Ironically, the shrinking industry has faded that stigma, as the purpose-driven “practical” scrapbookers have largely fled the industry in favor of digital archiving. A large portion of the remaining market are the ones who have always scrapbooked for the joy of creating. They are more free to enjoy the art of their hobby, stigma-free, now. We must continue to encourage and market the artistic expression element of scrapbooking and papercrafting activities. Art lives on, immune to practicality.
Is scrapbooking dying? It doesn’t have to. But its consumers are changing, and the way we think about it and more importantly as an industry market it, must change as well or we will find ourselves left behind.