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Thoughts on Scrapbooking’s Identity Crisis

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.

Nancy at Disneyland

Will my daughter know this is more than just another Disney castle picture thirty years from now?

“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.


27 Responses to Thoughts on Scrapbooking’s Identity Crisis

  1. Theresa June 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    13 years ago I started scrapbooking with a purpose. Now I see it as an artistic outlet. Thank you for validating it. As many scrapbooking companies are floundering and are trying to recreate themselves to make a quick buck, I’m starting to feel lost in the sauce. I can only hope that we aren’t a dying hobby!

  2. Sue K. June 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    I have read that digital photography will be the shortest-lived form of photography because of changes in computer software. Think 8-tracks, beta, and vinyl records. NASA has moon pictures from the 70′s that can’t be accessed because the technology has changed so much. If we are going to preserve our photos, we must get them into a format that will last more than 10 years.

    As I see it, there are different forms of scrapbooking, one to make a “better” and more comprehensive photo album with journaling, and another that is an art form with photos. What’s wrong with that? We don’t all have to do the same thing.

  3. Nancy June 12, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I still love scrapbooking but I have spent an enormous amount of money on everything under the moon to do with scrapbooking and now I have to try to use the majority of it before I buy more. So, no, I will not stop scrapbooking but I can’t afford the amount I used to be able to spend. I have about 15 books in progress! It’s overwhelming! :)

  4. liz June 13, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    I too, started out to “document” events and happenings, new grandchildren, etc….and I still love to make fun pages with embellishments and doodads, but I have added “art” to my pages when I want to. the fun with scrappy stuff is technically we can make our “pages” any way we want, more doodads, less journaling, no journaling, stitching, brads, layers, stencils, none of it…..but to make something we enjoyed and leave memories, who could ask for more….and we can do it always!

  5. Amanda June 13, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    I have to respectfully disagree with what you’re saying.

    First, how is having digital images on your computer different from having envelpoes of phots in your house? You didn’t scrap all those pictures so I see it as the same thing. Plus getting the digital images printed I think is actually easier. With film you had to take it to a store, fill out the envelope, then go back and pick up your pictrures. Today you can order your pictures on your computer and have them shipped right to your house. Most scrapbookers don’t edit their pictures so this way they only get the pictures they really want rather than an evelope with maybe only half the pictures they will use.

    I’ve been a project life user for 3 years and love it but I bet until recently a majority of scrapbookers didn’t even know what it was. I would guess that the scrapbookers online, that follow trends, are only a small percentage of the people that actually scrapbook.
    I think one reason the industry is fading is 1) there was an oversaturation about 5 years ago and just through attrition companies have folded. this happens in any industry. 2) Too many manufacturers are designing for trends and most scrapbookers probably look at their product and think, what in the world would I do with this. For myself I’m thinking about the bird trend and dress forms. There needs to be more market research of the normal, everyday scrapper and not just the vocal few online. 3) The economy, people just don’t have the expendable income they once had so they’re going for the cheapest way to tell their story and that could be through free digital elements. They can also go to JoAnn’s and get a paper pad for $10 with a coupon when in a LSS you might get 10 pieces of paper. People are just more frugal.

    I respect your opinion, I just don’t think it takes a holistic view of the entire industry.

  6. Ruth G June 13, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I love the storytelling and the artistic side of scrapbooking and try to balance both. I don’t see a page with just one picture and no words as something I find valuable. I also prefer traditional 12×12 pages to a PL format. As I accumulate more pictures, though, using a simpler method does appeal, just to get the story out there. Nobody looks through my albums when I’m done with them, but they do look through the photo albums. I guess scrapbooking is more about me telling a story I’m compelled to tell and enjoying that process and not about others wanting to see how I told that story.

  7. Ellen Gruber Garvey June 13, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    For the historically minded, scrapbook makers in the 19th century filled their scrapbooks with newspaper clippings — organizing their reading and sometimes making them into their ideal newspapers. This was especially dramatic during the Civil War, or among African Americans and women’s rights activists. So, much of what they did is just like what we all do today with bookmarks and favorites lists and blogrolls. People told stories with their clippings, and they do now with their digital collections. You can read more about this history in Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance.

    • Dottie J June 13, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Writing with Scissors…. I LOVE that concept! What a great way to look at this wonderful hobby. My mother was a memory-keeper before me and I made photo albums to tell a story before there was a scrapbooking industry. She preserved the story of her teen years with scraps and ticket stubs and dried-up corsages and I love the glimpses I get of her through what she saved and the comments she wrote down. I scrapbook digitally, traditionally and hybrid and I do this for many reasons, most of which are mentioned above: preserving memories, artistic expression, the meditative joy of playing with paper, telling the story of my family through my eyes. And there is a new reason now: my daughter, a busy (and excellent) mom with a career, doesn’t have the space in her day to do anything with the photos they take. So I am making albums of my grandchildren’s days also, and she just adds a little journaling from her perspective. What I do is valued by my family and they do look at it. Nearly every visit at least one book gets pulled out and we remember the times together. But I do it because it is important and rewarding to ME, and that’s all that counts, and I will do it whether or not there is a scrapbooking industry. Of all the creative pursuits I have tried over the course of my life, it is the one thing I never tire of. And I suspect there are thousands (millions?) like me.

  8. Cathi Nelson June 13, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I love your quote, “art lives on, immune to practicality” because when I scrapbook using traditional products time disappears. It is an art, my art.

    At the same time I had what I call my “light bulb” moment in 2005. For over 18 years I taught and sold scrapbooking supplies but my business wasn’t growing. Many of my customers started saying – will you just do it for me? I realized they still cared about their photos and stories but just didn’t have the time to do it themselves. Plus, they were becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the exploding number of photos, media and memorabilia they were accumulating. So I started saying, Yes, I will do it for you.

    From those early days we now have an entirely new and growing industry called, ” Photo – Life Management”. The Association of Personal Photo Organizers, is the association that represents this new and growing industry. APPO trains individuals who want to specialize in helping consumers and businesses rescue their irreplaceable photos, organizing them in a way that makes it simple to share their memories, lives and traditions. Since its inception, we have grown to over hundreds of members throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and United Kingdom.

    I believe the art of storytelling through photos won’t disappear. It may look different but the need to share and tell our stories is a universal need.
    If you would like to learn more check us out at http://www.appo.org.

    • Blayne White June 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      Cathy – I’ve been trying to contact you. I was referred to you by Stacy Julian of Big Picture Classes. I am extremely interested in APPO and have designed a software, based on Stacy’s principles of Photo Freedom that I would love to share with you. Please contact me.

      • cathinelson June 25, 2013 at 9:19 am #

        We are looking forward to our conversation in July and seeing
        myscraproom through a demonstration!

  9. Susanne June 13, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Personally for me, it will take a long time for me (more than the 10 years already past) to grow weary of scrapbooking – there is so much more to it for me than curating my pictures – I want to tell stories – and I want to have fun of creating a merging of story and picture and craft. While I find Project Life has a purpose, it didn’t take long for me to recognize its shortcomings in my own view. I like the evolving nature of learning the craft better – writing better – and playing with actual physical elements. So photo books, Project Life, video documenting and digital scrapping all hold limited appeal for me. Sure the industry is moving forward with technology, but that doesn’t mean I can hold on to those things that are meaningful to me about how I scrapbook now.

    • Susanne June 13, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      That last line should say “that doesn’t mean I can’t hold on to those things that are meaningful to me”.

  10. Lynnscraps June 13, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    I started to scrapbook “archivally” 16 years ago when scrapbooking really took off. I have scrapbooked all my life, but I wanted to preserve my memorabilia better than faded newspaper clippings and magnetic albums that destroyed my photos. Telling the story behind the photos means a lot to me. I do use computer technology so I guess I am a hybrid scrapbooker, but my albums are paper, not digital. When my grandchildren are here, it’s their albums they want to hold and turn the pages about themselves.Scrapbooking is also my creative outlet and my therapy.
    I recently lost my Dad and he had photos from the late 1800′s. They were still in very decent shape, but how I wished I knew more about the people in the photos and their connection to me. To have these stories to show my grandchildrren would be priceless. Even though my Dad had written names on the back of them, I still knew nothing about them. Therefore I scrapbook!!
    This is a great industry, but I think over-saturation of product has played a part in it’s decline.

  11. Kristin June 13, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I have been scrapbooking for over 21 years. I have seen this hobby take on so many changes.This hobby just like all other hobbies can change over time. To me if you are a hands on scrapbooker or a digital scrapbooker you are still a scrapbooker!

  12. Sue Alg June 13, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    I’ve been scrapbooking for 15-20 years and my methods have evolved. I believe I’m telling a story. I just wish my ancestors had recorded more of their everyday life, so that is why I’m doing Project Life in addition to my other scrapping. Hopefully, some day my grandkids will appreciate knowing about my life and their heritage. I don’t think your method is important–what’s important is that you get this the info/pics recorded.

    I don’t believe in just passing on my digital pics because these will have little meaning without some of the stories. And, these would just sit on someone else’s computer just like the envelopes of pics did in year’s past. I have many photos from my ancestors, but I don’t the stories to go with them. And, they are no longer with us so these may be lost forever.

    I create an annual scrapbook each year for my 3 daughter-in-laws as a Christmas gift. This documents their family’s past year history. I not only use my own pics, but rely on them to provide their digital pics. I’ve been doing this for over 6 years. One year, they didn’t forward me their pics (after a lot of nagging from me) and I didn’t create this annual scrapbook. Let me say, now they provide their pics to me continually either through shared website, DVD, flash drives, etc.

  13. Addie June 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I agree curating gains tremendous importance with digital technology (and probably others to come, as Sue K. astutely notes above). With the increassed need for curating, comes the attention we need to pay to the highly emotional component of the activity, whether it takes the form of artistic creation or not. Many scrapbooks look to me like corporate annual reports, but they’re referred to as “clean and simple scrapbooking.” Even styles have an emotionally charged descrption in this hobby. Where people’s families are concerned, technology, product development, market analysis –all will need to take into account a similar highly charged emotional component that exists in religious and political issues. The emotional charge fuels curating, not the need to document old photos. The question is: do thousands of photos diminish the emotional charge?

  14. Karen S. June 14, 2013 at 12:45 am #

    The main thing I have noticed with the scrapbooking trend is less focus on the pictures and the story. I see so many pages that are filled with embellishments and one tiny picture in the corner. It’s the paper and “stuff” you’re looking at, not the pictures or story. All my layouts are about someone or some event. I want my kids to remember the day and all the feelings that went along with it, not having a bunch of artistic, beautiful pages which don’t really say anything. I plan on scrapbooking, both digitally and paper, for a very long time.

    • Thea White June 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      I agree with Karen. I realize the companies are selling the extras to compliment the pictures but sometimes it is too much. I use only what adds to the story. Even with digital scrapbooking you can add too much. It is about the stories behind the pictures. What happens when technology advances past what we have now and we can’t access this present form of our digital pictures? At least if they are printed we can still look at them the “old-fashioned” way. In our hands. Just like we do with those very old pictures.

  15. Vicki June 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    I started scrapping about 15 years ago and I was so enamored with the thought of a story going along with the picture. After all when I handed people my envelope of pictures or a photo album the first thing I did was hoover over them telling them tid-bits about the photos… I was adding my voice to the photos.
    Today I still add my voice by journaling, but also through my artistic expression.
    I have always been pleased with the amount of stories I choose to scrapbook, I think it is a reasonable amount… but then I did PL for two years and found my scrapbooking exploded– 3 albums for one year??? Crazy I was still doing 12×12 layouts and doing daily photos. I choose not to do PL this year.
    But I have found myself still with way too many layouts, I beleive its because of the amount of videos and online inspiration that pushes me to beleive its ok to scrap it all! When I know that in the grand scheme of things that my photos/stories do need to be curated.

  16. Claire June 15, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    This is an incredibly emotive subject! I tensed when I read that my photos may not be accessible in 10 years … I have them on discs and external hard drives – what else can I do with the THOUSANDS of photos I have? I am sure someone will have the foresight to keep hold of current technology and make millions out of people like us! I have boxes of film photos too – it’s fine, I am not panicking about any of them. I am a scrapbooker – whether I use the computer or not. I have started journaling in a more meaningful way as my children have got older. They like to read their pages and my writing has evolved with them.
    Like Sue Alg, I am also focussing more on ‘stuff’ from this era – I have pages about computers and remote controls, cameras and mobiles and boy have they changed in the last FIVE years! Project Life is good for that I think, but I am yet to embrace it. I think I will probably hybridise my books by just incorporating PL pages amongst them, as I am incredibly random and don’t have chronological albums. Having said that, I DO, but they are chronological in my STYLE, not by the event or age of the subject.
    The world is being chronicled minutely these days, blogs, FaceBook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and MANY other sites I have no clue about abound.
    I wonder what would happen if the Internet went away? Thank heavens for my paper pages!

  17. Gab June 17, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Really interesting article and discussion

  18. Laura June 17, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    I scrapbook because of the artistic outlet, the stress relief, and because I love having pictures in albums. I never gather my family around my computer to look at pictures. However, if I have a scrapbook on the table, the first thing they do is open it, grab a seat, and start looking through it. The internet changes so much, each social media site we have our pictures on will change, some will be gone over time when other sites find their way into the internet world that are bigger and better. Also, these social media sites will not be passed onto the next generation. Instead, the site would probably be deleted after some time and all pictures would be lost. There is nothing like flipping the pages to a picture book with 10 of your family members huddled around it :)

  19. Blayne White June 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Very well said, Nancy! I, too, have been scrapbooking for almost 20 years and my style and process has definitely evolved over time. A few years ago, I almost gave up because I was so overwhelmed with my photos and I dedicated myself to developing an organizational system to help others gain control over their images and free their creativity. I would love to speak with you more on this subject! Please contact me.

  20. jones October 25, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Meh.. believe what you will but scrapbooking is a dead hobby… it just hasn’t died completely yet. Who has the time to sit and create 12×12 pages from the hordes of images we have…? And – really – besides as a creative outlet – truly cares about the pages? Do you all really have so much time on your hands to scrap about “Sally lost a tooth today!” and “Tammy went to the park!”. Facebook provides a 30 second outlet to share all your “special” moments with your family and friends… so – if you feel the need to share everything that happens to you with everyone else – that is the easy way to proceed.

  21. NV January 3, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Maybe I missed it, but no one mentioned one my favorite components about scrapbooking: friends! Crops and annual weekend event are a part of my almost 16-year scrapbooking tradition. We get together, work on our individual projects, catch up … and get some of the stories you wouldn’t necessarily share on Facebook or a blog when you post a picture. :-) It’s a hell of a lot more than “Tammy went to the park.” And it lasts a lot longer than 30 seconds. Or at least my experiences do and I’m extremely glad of it! As someone pointed out earlier, the sheer saturation is killing off some of the industry but I see it evolving. I just hope that the recent bankruptcies and now closures of companies like Creative Memories (less than impressed with the replacement company with a new name) and Archiver’s are mere speedbumps in that evolutionary road.

    • Cath January 3, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      I so agree! That is why I am so saddened by the closing of Archiver’s. My life and my fellow scrapbookers’ lives are busy & hectic, but it was wonderful to schedule time to attend crop events to also reconnect with one another. I will continue to scrapbook but the social aspect of what the hobby brought is what I fear will disappear.

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