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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

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Where Did All of the Bookstores Go?

Here’s the thing about great start-ups and new technology: old established markets get disrupted. It’s inevitable, even if it takes longer than we initially expect. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, in light of Punchbowl’s announcement today about our new product, Digital Greeting Cards

Here’s what we wrote about Digital Greeting Cards in the press release: “Digital Greeting Cards is a suitable alternative to traditional paper greeting cards complete with attractive folded designs, matching envelopes, realistic postmarks, and the complete mail-opening experience. The cards can be personalized with accents such as envelope liners, custom postage, and rubber stamps. Digital Greeting Cards eliminates the need to visit a store, find a physical mailing address, and purchase postage stamps.

In preparation for the launch of this new product, I’ve spoken with lots of people about why they send paper greeting cards. And usually sometime during the conversation, I hear something to the effect of “I like the feel of a paper greeting card — I like holding a paper card in my hand.”

I certainly understand that sentiment. And in fact, you might be surprised to hear this but I feel the same way about books. Despite my digital work-life, when it comes to actually reading a book, I still prefer to pick up a physical novel. But here’s the thing: I’m slowly but surely becoming the minority. For example, my wife used to buy paper books, but ever since I gave her a Kindle as a present (about 2 years ago) she hasn’t purchased a single book. Not one. I have no doubt that I’ll join her soon — given all of the people in my life who rave about the Kindle, I’m sure one is in my future.

This weekend I was walking in my town when I passed a music store. You know, the kind that sells records, tapes, and CDs. What a relic! I took a moment to look into the store’s window and I reflected fondly on the record/CD stores I used to love to visit. And now they are (mostly) all gone. Only a few remain, and they all seem like some strange museum artifacts from the 1980s.

Bookstores are next. Even though there are still many people who love buying books the trend is inevitable. In the next 20 years, we’ll see the major chain bookstores close, one by one (see “Internet claims another victim”). Before you know it, the only bookstores that remain will be the small, independently owned bookstores (the ones with low overhead costs). And then one day, you’ll be walking down the street, see a bookstore and wonder: where did all of the bookstores go? It’s inevitable.

That brings me back to the greeting card industry. As we prepared for the launch of our new product, I knew that we were taking on an well-established market. Just like paper books, there are lots of people who love paper greeting cards. Even so, the writing is on the wall. Think about the people who have grown up on Facebook and Twitter. How do you think they feel about paper greeting cards? When I talk to the younger generation they use words like “unnecessary” and “old” to describe paper greeting cards. So will paper greeting cards go away completely? No, I don’t think so. But in 10-15 years, the greeting card aisle at the local drugstore will be a lot smaller than it is today. Just like bookstores, change is inevitable.

Technology disrupts old, established markets. What old, established markets are you trying to disrupt? What’s your vision for the future? What technology disruption will come next?


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©2019 Matt Douglas