Can scrapbooking, a paper-bound Middle American pastime with deep roots and a boom last decade, survive the onslaught of digital and social media? Two very different bets are being played that it can -- one by an intriguing startup with heavyweight help and the other by the scrapbooking industry's biggest brand.
Darcy Crociata, a Cincinnati woman who describes herself as a once-avid scrapbooker turned avid "Facebooker," has the postmodern solution. She's preparing to launch LifeBlinx, a patent-pending Facebook app that streamlines turning uploaded photos and wall posts into ready-made scrapbooks at $19.99 for a soft-cover book and $29.99 for hardcover.
The world has a lot of bootstrap entrepreneurs with big dreams of Facebook apps, but Ms. Crociata has better backing than many. Her advisory board includes her husband -- a Procter & Gamble Co. marketing director -- as well as Lucas Watson, P&G's former global digital leader and now VP-YouTube sales and marketing at Google, along with J.B. Kropp, who works in strategic partnerships at Twitter.
Then there's Provo Craft, marketer of Cricut machines for printing and cutting pages and embellishments for scrapbooks, and what appears to be the dominant brand in a $1.5 billion scrapbooking-supplies industry. Provo Craft launched only five years ago near what some see as the peak of the scrapbooking boom. But Cricut is betting it can sustain steady growth in part by giving away cloud scrapbooking software and stepping up digital and social-media advertising via Mullen's Frank About Women unit in Winston-Salem, N.C., named earlier this year following a review.
One anecdotal sign Cricut can still thrive: When it took a new logo last year, one of its 20-something fans had the trademark tattooed on her wrist and posted a photo to prove it on the brand's an page, along with her intention to get a similar treatment on her other wrist.
Ms. Crociata was never quite that avid, and she's in some ways the scrapbooking industry's worst nightmare. After the former school teacher, pharmaceutical-sales rep and focus-group moderator gave birth to twins nearly six years ago, she ran out of time and saw the photos and other stuff she used to put in scrapbooks start piling up in tubs around the house.
Now with three kids in total, she does still take a lot of digital photos, but she uploads them to Facebook. However, she found that the urge to organize digital photos into keepsakes didn't go away, even if she found no easy way to do it, including digital scrapbooking software she found tedious.
Ultimately, she landed on the idea of developing a Facebook app that pulls photos and related wall comments into custom-printed scrapbooks. Next month, she's planning a public launch for the LifeBlinx app that in recent months has been in beta test with friends and family as she irons out kinks.
"I never really thought about Facebook as my scrapbook until one day it just hit me that all this information is already here, why can't we just pull it and put it into a scrapbook?" Ms. Crociata said. During a trip to Disney World two years ago, she came up with the idea of an app to do just that , and by last year got seed funding and advice for the idea through CincyTech, a public-private partnership that supports local entrepreneurs, and the marketing incubator it supports, The Brandery.
Once she started down the path of developing an app that would pull photos and comments together into coherent story, she said, "I started Facebooking differently."
That meant uploading more photos and annotating them with comments more often. The potential payoff here for Facebook, of course, is that if LifeBlinx catches on with millions of scrapbookers, they, too, will spend even more time on the network with a mind toward creating books.
"With everybody taking so many photos on their digital cameras and automatically uploading them to Facebook and other social-media sites, it presents a huge opportunity to create this digital book on the fly," said Mr. Kropp, who's also co-founder of the Brandery, and has been on LifeBlinx's advisory board for a year.
Though sales data aren't easily found on scrapbooking, a few signs point to a boom early last decade turning to bust. Michaels, which opened 11 Recollections Scrapbooking stores starting in 2003, shuttered them all in 2007. A study by Scrapbooking.com, an online magazine serving the industry, found industry sales peaked at under $2.6 billion in 2004 and 2005 and then began declining slowly to $1.7 billion by 2009.
Google Insights for Search shows a similar decline in interest. Search intensity for "scrapbooking" in the U.S. peaked in 2005, waning some in 2006 and then falling at an accelerating rate. In June, scrapbooking indexed at less than a third its level relative to overall search six years ago. The graph is practically a reverse image, if not quite so hyperbolic, as the growth in search intensity for "Facebook" over that period.
Fortunately for Provo Craft, the two fastest-rising terms in scrapbooking search are Cricut and its phonetic alternative "cricket," suggesting some pretty strong word-of -mouth. Regardless of what's going on with overall industry sales, Cricut retail sales last year grew "double to strong single digits" to more than $400 million, said Provo Craft Chief Marketing Officer Matt Wilburn, a former Yahoo executive. And he said the 2010 Craft and Hobby Association survey found 30 million households have someone who participates in some form of paper craft, though Scrapbooking.com estimates only 4.4 million people in the U.S. like to scrapbook (though they're spending about $300 per capita on it annually).
The rise of digital photography has resulted in a lot more images, increasing the need for some way of organizing and preserving them, Mr. Wilburn said. The cluttered hard drive or cloud photo app is today's version of boxes of Kodak prints sitting in the closet, and in one effort to get all those images off the hard drive and into books, Provo Craft is in beta test of Cricut Craftroom, a free cloud design software program.