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Fewer Christmas greetings in the cards these days

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Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

If you're like me, trips to the mailbox during the holiday season have become far less festive in recent years.

Bill, bill, bill. The Pennysaver. A clothing catalog, a supermarket advertising flier, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly you won't have time to peruse and -- if you're fortunate -- a Christmas card or two.

There used to be days in December in which my mailbox would overflow with season's greetings. But the number of those days has declined to the extent where I wondered: Are people sending fewer Christmas cards these days, or are people merely sending fewer of them to me?

If the folks at the United States Postal Service could tear themselves away from planning their next rate hike, I thought they might be able to provide a clue to the answer. Darned if I wasn't right.

According to the postal service, holiday greeting card deliveries dropped an estimated 7.5 percent between 2007 and 2009. Those mail-delivering maniacs arrived at that figure by extrapolating numbers from postal service surveys of American mailing habits.

Although that drop-off is significant, greeting card king Hallmark said the overall industry's condition is as rosy as the cover of one of its $3.95 Valentine's Day cards.

Acknowledging occasional "slight fluctuations" in sales because of economic conditions and other factors, spokesperson Deidre Mize noted Hallmark expects 1.5 billion paper cards will be sold this holiday season.

Ah, but the country's largest greeting card manufacturer has a vested interest in portraying its business as thriving. If people start believing Christmas cards are becoming obsolete, they will stop buying them.

If that happens and card racks start disappearing from its stores, how would Hallmark fill the vacant floor space -- with authentic tribal masks?

For an objective opinion, I called Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey, who definitely is about to be removed from Hallmark's Christmas card list.

According to Guskey, holiday cards used to provide a way to send greetings to and catch up with people you didn't see every day. Now you can accomplish that more quickly and easily via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

She's right, of course. A family update included in a mailed holiday greeting card might indicate Steve and Betty recently celebrated a romantic 15th wedding anniversary and 10-year-old Stephanie's braces just came off.

By the time the card actually arrives, Facebook updates might reveal that Betty found out that Steve was having an affair and she hopes to complete her nursing degree before the divorce is finalized.

Meanwhile, Stephanie's braces became old news the moment the kid got her nose ring.

"I'm not sure how long it took the dinosaurs to become extinct," Guskey said. "But the way we're heading, in a decade or so people probably won't be sending many Christmas cards at all."

Admit it. You learned something today in this space, didn't you?

No need to send a thank you card. But a few more Christmas greetings would be appreciated before Hallmark is forced to start peddling the tribal masks.

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