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When You Care Enough To Send ... An E-Card

Part of a series on the U.S. Postal Service

Time was when you'd take out your favorite pen to write a heartfelt note in a Christmas card and then put a stamp on it. But for more than a decade, people have been using the Internet to send holiday greetings as well as birthday cards and party invitations.

The rise of e-cards has eaten into the U.S. Postal Service's volume and bottom line. And now, e-card companies are hooking up with social networking sites, and that's making the business grow even more than before.

Take the online greeting service JibJab. There, you can send a mass batch of, say, personalized disco Christmas cards to your friends on Facebook instead of spending time at a bricks-and-mortar shop looking for holiday greetings.

"E-mail used to be the primary sharing method. We actually default to Facebook sharing right now because, look, all of my friends are now integrated into the page," says Gregg Spiridellis, CEO of JibJab.

And to personalize your greeting, you can pull your friends' pictures, put them on top of disco-dancing bodies wearing Santa Claus hats and post it to your friends' walls on Facebook. For an online greeting company like this one, social networking equals money. The disco card is free, but for most of them you have to pay a $13 annual membership fee. Last year, JibJab processed over 1 million credit card orders, thanks in part to the boost of Facebook.

Wanda Wen, owner of Soolip, a paper card and invitation store in Los Angeles, finds this to be a discouraging development "It's a little bit sad," Wen says. "It's sad that our existence, our community is losing its human touch, humanness."

She says taking the time to pick something out and write down a thought is a more authentic gesture than doing it online.

Julie Albright, a digital sociologist at the University of Southern California, points out that when you send an e-card via Facebook, your whole social network sees it -- and not just the person you sent it to.

"It's not just a gift to the person in a sense or in honor of the person. You also get some kind of social boost by being the one that sent that card. Everyone sees that you sent that card to that person," Albright says.

But Ron Miller, owner of greeting card company Village Lighthouse, is betting his business that people are going to continue buying paper greeting cards and sending social network e-cards. Village Lighthouse does both.

"It goes hand in hand. If you have a really important loved one that you really care about, you're not gonna buy them an e-card. You're gonna go into a store and buy them a card and you're gonna write that personal sentiment in addition to the way that they're doing it on Facebook," says Miller.

If anything, social networks have just created a stronger greeting habit, Miller says. People share sentiments more than they ever did.

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Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

The U.S. Postal Service is struggling with huge financial loses. That's partly because people are saying no to snail mail, and instead using the Internet to send party invitations, birthday greetings, holiday cards, all that good stuff.

Now, as part of an NPR series on the challenges facing the postal service, Alex Schmidt reports on the next generation of Internet greetings - e-cards that are integrated with social networking sites.

ALEX SCHMIDT: So the holidays are coming up and I have a ton of people I want to send greetings to. I could go to the card shop down the street, spend some time thoughtfully pondering what to send my nearest and dearest or I can use online greeting service JibJab...

(Soundbite of music)

SCHMIDT: ...and send a mass batch of personalized disco Christmas cards to my friends on Facebook. Gregg Spiridellis is CEO of JibJab.

Mr. GREGG SPIRIDELLIS (CEO, JibJab): Email used to be the primary sharing method. We actually default to Facebook sharing right now because, look, all of my friends are now integrated into the page.

SCHMIDT: On one screen, I can grab my friends' pictures, put them on top of disco dancing bodies wearing Santa Claus hats, and post to friends' walls. For an online greeting company like this one, social networking equals money. The disco card is free. But for most of them, you have to pay $13 annual membership fee. Last year, JibJab processed over one million credit card orders, thanks in part to the boost of Facebook.

Ms. WANDA WEN (Owner, Soolip Store): It's a little bit sad.

SCHMIDT: Wanda Wen is owner of Soolip, a paper card and invitation store in Los Angeles.

Ms. WEN: It's sad that our existence and our community is losing its human touch, humanness.

SCHMIDT: She says taking the time to pick something out and write down a thought is a more authentic gesture than doing it online.

USC digital sociologist Julie Albright points out that when you send an e-card, your whole social network sees it and not just the person you sent it to.

Ms. JULIE ALBRIGHT (Digital sociologist, University of California): It's not just a gift to the person, in a sense, or an honor to the person, you also get some kind of social boost by being the one that sent that card. Everyone sees that you sent that card to that person.

SCHMIDT: But Ron Miller is betting his business that people are going to continue buying paper greeting cards and sending social network e-cards. He owns greeting card company Village Lighthouse, which does both.

Mr. RON MILLER (Owner, Village Lighthouse): It goes hand in hand because, you know, if you have a really important loved one that you really care about, you're not going to send them an e-card. You're going to go into the store. You're going to buy them a card and you're going to write that personal sentiment, in addition to the way that they're doing it on Facebook.

SCHMIDT: If anything, social networks have just created a stronger greeting habit, Miller says. People share sentiments now more than they ever did.

(Soundbite of song, "Twelve Days of Christmas")

SCHMIDT: So I'll probably send some disco holiday cards to co-workers on Facebook. But don't worry, mom, next year, your Mother's Day card will be in the mail with a stamp on it.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: And for all you traditionalists, weve put together a scrapbook online of memorable letters youve shared with us. Thats at NPR.org. More ahead on this Thanksgiving Day version of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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