The Stationers Guild

Posts Tagged ‘NYT’

New York Times writer trashes National Stationery Show

Friday, May 21st, 2010

One would have thought that the New York Times would have had the good sense to say something positive about the National Stationery Show, but clearly it looks like they are short-staffed and had to assign a rookie reporter from the crime beat to cover the show.  In a bizarre and senseless piece of “reporting” that seems to have been crafted in an Irish pub, NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon  focused on the case of the purloined letter and the scatological humor of one award recipient as the defining moments of his Javits Center experience. 

Perhaps Kilgannon is trying his hand (I assume Corey is a male) at blogging rather than journalism since his days at the New York Times are probably numbered if this is the best he can do.    It is no wonder that NYT’s readership is declining with Kilgannon missing everything that it is relevant to focus on sensationalist tidbits that may appeal to his small base of followers on Twitter.  If this is all the news the New York Times sees “fit to print” then the editor has obviously had a bad hair day.  Pitiful and sad.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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Book Price Wars and Fine Stationery: A Lesson

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

The New York Times reports that a price war is developing in the merchandising of books that threatens to destroy the industry.  New York Times writer, Motoko Rich, says that a price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon accelerated on Friday with many bestsellers offered online at $8.99. 

Writes Motoko Rich, “Publishers, booksellers, agents and authors, meanwhile, fretted that the battle was taking prices for certain hardcover titles so low that it could fundamentally damage the industry and ability of future authors to write or publish new works.”   If you like Chainsaw Al, you’ve got to love Wal-Mart.  Once Wal-Mart  gets a stranglehold on an industry the resulting landscape will be as barren as Georgia after Sherman’s march to to the sea during the Civil War. 

A similar, but not so dramatic, battle is taking place in the stationery industry.  Yep!  Wal-Mart has got its paw into this industry too, selling greeting cards for $0.46.  American Greetings and many other greeting card companies are suffering by these predatory practices of Wal-Mart.  As Wal-Mart pushes for the last cent from its suppliers to provide the “cheapest” product on the market, hundreds if not thousands of artisans, craftspeople, workers and families are displaced and marginalized by their practices.  

While the current bestseller from Amazon, Wal-Mart and the town bookstore are identical, one might ask “why should I pay more?”   I guess it is for the same reason why discerning consumers pay more for “green” energy:  they are concerned by the implications of their purchasing decisions.    I think it would be a stretch of credulity to assume that Wal-Mart really cares about the future generations of authors, craftspeople and artisans that no longer can support themselves in an industry dessimated by Wal-Mart.   I guess these would-be artisans will be obliged to lay down their paint brushes, sell their Heidelberg presses and donate their book-binding tools to museums and become sales clerks at Wal-Mart.

As a stationer, I see many inferior designs and poor paper quality touted   as “fine stationery” by online marketing companies and their  paid internet marketing mercenaries who shamelessly promote their brand  in social media channels.   Stationers and Fine Paper companies simply must do a far better job in “educating” the consumer that there is more to fine stationery than a disingenous advertising ploy.

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Kindle & 1984: Don’t throw out your stationery just yet!

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

George Orwell must be having a chuckle – maybe even a hearty laugh – at the hullabaloo that ensued when Amazon deleted Orwell’s 1984 from it’s Kindle library because it didn’t have publishing rights to the digital reproduction.  Big Brother must certainly have been impressed by the ease with which faceless technocrats can deprive us of one our most sacred rights:  the right to read.   In his wildest imagination, Orwell could never have dreamt that Big Brother could control what people read with the simple flick of a switch.  Makes me start to wonder about the implications of Google’s digital library.   

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t think I will be recycling my book collection any time soon.    For that matter, I’m taking a long position in personalized stationery even though the Post Office may not be around much longer.  I have even stopped converting my photographs to digital images and gone back to leather photo albums.   I’m stopping short of building a bomb shelter, but will seriously consider getting rid of the TV if they have anymore “reality” TV shows.   I guess Paula Abdul’s abrupt departure from American Idol is a sign that reality TV is even less silly and hilarious than life in digiworld.

Just when I thought that digiworld couldn’t get any loonier, I discovered that someone was actually converting John Quincy Adam’s 1809 diary entries into Tweets.  In today’s New York Times, reporter Katie Zezima writes that a college student has been taking JQA’s journal entries of his boat trip to Russia and coverting them to tweets on Twitter.  According to the article, JQ already has 4,800 followers (I’m not one of them) and “the number was climbing.”  This clearly adds a new dimension to the Twitter tag line “What are you doing?”  In John Quincy’s case it might be “I’m dead, but still chirping!”  I wonder how many more people will become followers of someone who has been dead for more than 150 years.   ”Curiouser and curiouser!” said Alice in Wonderland (Yep, I have the book).

As we race down the digital highway of new “awareness” and greater “sensitivity” and “connectivity,” I do hope that some of us will pause to consider the consequences.   We  refer to that as “stopping to smell the roses.”  Personally, I find digiworld as confusing and as transient as Alice. 

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Cheap Wedding Invitations: Am I missing something?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

For some reason, I have become fixated on the phrase:  “cheap wedding invitations”.  Perhaps, my curiosity was piqued when I discovered that there were 17 million web pages that contained the search term “cheap wedding invitations.”  Or maybe it was the shock at finding that there were almost 50 thousand Google searches in June using the phrase “cheap wedding invitations.”  I would have thought that “free wedding invitations” was a better term, but I was mistaken since there were only 27 thousand Google searches in June for that phrase.

In any event, the matter came to a head this weekend when I picked up the New York Times Book Review and saw the review of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell.    I have now read a couple of reviews and intend to buy Cheap (at the full retail price?) when I quit writing Blog articles.    The long and short of the reviews is that the costs of our “discount culture” are inevitably paid for by somebody.  Writes the reviewer, Laura Shapiro, “We’re being subsidized by a distant labor force we never see, the Chinese and Mexicans and Vietnamese who work under well-documented Dickensian conditions.”   Harvard economist, Robert Lawrence is quoted by Ms. Shell as saying that “When prices are kept too low, innovation is nearly impossible.”  Argues Ms. Shapiro “Apparently we’re not even building better mousetraps anymore – just cheaper ones.”

Cheap by Ellen Ruppell Shell

Cheap by Ellen Ruppell Shell

While it is hard to argue that getting the “best value” is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, an online search for a “cheap wedding invitation” is unlikely return anything more than a cheap wedding invitation.  Whether the wedding invitation – regardless of its cost - has any intrinsic value to either the bridal couple or their guests is the far more important question.  Clearly, if your “cheap date” morphed into a more meaningful relationship and eventually a proposal, then one might  look for something a little less “cheap” to celebrate the occasion.  If you seek an affordable wedding invitation, then I strongly recommend that you visit a qualified stationer in your neighborhood who has wedding invitation suggestions for all budgets.

“Cheap” is always available on the Internet.  If, however, you are looking for a custom wedding invitation that is within your budget, don’t cheapen yourself by succumbing to the unsubstantiated and largely outrageous ploys that abound in cyberspace.

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Can emails replace wedding invitations?

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I was fascinated to read the Cecilia McGee’s article in the June 10, 2009 Styles section of the New York Times entitled “Your Invitation is not in the mail.”    The article describes how a young brother and sister have launched a new website called Paperless Post which allows a buyer to design and send a custom email invitation.  The Hirschfeld’s have allegedly received $1 million in funding to launch their new website and several distinguished politicians and celebrities seem to be overwhelmed by the simulated beauty of their emailed invitations.

While some of the innovative graphics may seem to be revolutionary to their clients, it is unlikely to create much buzz within the internet community.  In fact, as web design graphics evolves it continues to be imitated, absorbed and quickly displaced by new technologies.  In fact, success on the internet is based on search engine optimization (SEO) rather than innovative design.  More importantly, simulated invitations on the internet are missing two important elements:  paper and printing.

Artists and craftspeople in the industry are simply being displaced by graphics designers using Photoshop.  Whether this is useful or beneficial to society over the long-run remains to be seen, but I suspect that Paperless Post will not emerge as the Rembrandt of custom online invitations.   The  internet and inexpensive graphic design programs place sophisticated design capabilities in the hands of most everybody.  Unfortunately, since most everyone can do it inexpensively, it creates an environment of only transitory value.  If everyone could design a Mona Lisa or the Nightwatchman, these works of art would have little perceived value to society.

The online invitation business is rapidly approaching economic irrelevancy from a design perspective.  Efficiency and cost drive the online business – not beauty!  If you are interested in an invitation rather than an email, paper is the only real alternative.  When the distribution channel become more important than the product itself, the craftsmanship and civility of fine paper will gradually be lost to society.  In the New York Times article Pamela Fiori, the editor in chief of Town & Country, is quoted as saying “In a world increasingly uncivilized,” she said, “it’s important that we have some ties to tradition. And I honestly think that what we’re losing with e-mail are our memories.”  Ms. Fiori’s comment reminds me of a memorable scene in Blade Runner.

In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, replicant hunter Deckard (Harrison Ford) callously tells Rachael (Sean Young) that her memories have been implanted and that she is simply a robot.  Rachael, desperately clinging to a “family” photograph as proof that she is human, breaks into tears and flees Deckard’s apartment.  The scene was provocative on two levels:  first, it was the first time I had seen a robot cry and, secondly, a simple family photograph seemed to be a more relevant factor in Rachael’s belief in her humanity than all of her systematic programming.

In summary, if simulated email images masquerading as invitations is your cup of tea then by all means imbibe.  If texture, relevancy, tradition and tangible works of art continue to entrall you then don’t settle for pixalated pop art.

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Stationery and Global Livestock Production

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Last Christmas one of my daughters gave me Mark Bittman’s book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.  Clearly more concerned about my growing waistline than my malnourished intellect, my daughter’s inspired gift got me to thinking about calories and food production from an entirely different perspective:  the environment.  In Mr. Bittman’s eye-opening introduction he asserts that, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultual Organization (FAO), “global livestock production is responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gases – more than transportation.”

Mark Bittman, the noted food critic for the New York Times, and straight-man to hilarious chef Mario Batali in Spain… On The Road Again, makes an utterly convincing case for reducing our meat consumption and  ”save ourselves and our planet (and some money) by doing so.”  While I have not yet swapped cow for tofu, my daughters will be delighted that I have decided to moderate my diet and eat more responsibly.  In addition to practical reasons for modifying our eating habits, Food Matters has 75 great recipes to help facilitate that change.

You may be asking, what does stationery have to do with global livestock production?   A cynical answer might be that if everyone were to skip the double cheeseburger and instead send out a hand-written note the world be a better place.  Surely, a nice piece of social correspondence doesn’t  use  any more paper than the wrapping paper and bag that accompanies your 700 calorie burger.

While it is fashionable to be “green” I am always a bit skeptical of “green” claims when it comes to paper.   Scot Case of TerraChoice discusses the seven sins of greenwash which are routinely violated in most ”green” stationery promotions.   I am not sure if these questionable claims are deliberate, but stretching the truth seems to be a common and growing trend within the stationery industry.  It is indeed unfortunate as there are so many passionate and talented designers and craftspeople like Julie Holcomb, Oblation Papers and Elum Designs where “green” is a way of life rather than misleading promotional hype.

Mr. Bittman’s book on eating habits and global livestock production brings home a sad truth:  We seem to spend far too much time focusing micro-issues while  the “big green picture” gradually slips out of control.  Certainly, global livestock production and packaging, which represents more than 40% of all paper production, are far more serious environmental concerns than the simple yet elegant act of sending a personal note.

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Stationer Mrs. John L. Strong Closes

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

The New York Times reports that luxury stationer Mrs. John L. Strong is closing.  This venerable stationer, founded by Flora Strong during the depression (the Great Depression of the 30s, not this one!), closed its Madison Avenue store on Thursday.

All of us in the stationery industry lament the passing of one of the great design firms for fine stationery and custom invitations.  Needless to say, the presence of Mrs. John L. Strong will be sorely missed.

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