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Social media threaten greeting card makers

Scott Forstall of Apple last year discussed an app that allows users to create and mail greeting cards using their iPhones.

P. Sakuma/Associated Press/File

Scott Forstall of Apple last year discussed an app that allows users to create and mail greeting cards using their iPhones.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s your birthday or you’ve just had a baby, gotten engaged, or bought your first house. If you’re like many Americans, you have friends who are texting congratulations, sending you e-cards, or clicking ‘‘Like’’ on your Facebook wall.

But how many will send a paper greeting card?

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‘‘I’m really, really bad at it,’’ said Melissa Uhl. The 25-year-old nanny from Kansas City, Mo., hears from friends largely through Facebook.

Once a staple, paper greeting cards are fewer and farther between — now seen as something special, instead of something required. The shift is a worrisome challenge for the nation’s top card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc., which last week said it will close a Kansas plant that made one-third of its greeting cards. In consolidating, Kansas City-based Hallmark plans to shed 300 jobs.

Pete Burney, the senior vice president who oversees production, said ‘‘competition in our industry is indeed formidable’’ and ‘‘consumers do have more ways to connect digitally and online and through social media.’’

Over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the United States has dropped from about 6 billion to 5 billion annually, by Hallmark’s estimates. The Greeting Card Association, a trade group, puts the overall figure at 7 billion.

Even paper cards have changed. Many people use online photo sites to upload images and write their own greetings. High-end paper stores attract customers who design their own cards, sometimes using software once available only to professionals.

Hallmark says it’s committed to the paper greeting card, but it has made changes. Its ­iPhone app, for example, lets people buy and mail cards from their phones.

It also partnered with the online card service Shutterfly to share designs that consumers can use to build specialized cards online.

Its chief rival, Cleveland-based American Greetings, went from trimming costs and jobs in the recession to say in August that it’s adding 125 workers in Arkansas, part of an expansion that will allow customers to design cards online.

Judith Martin, author of the Miss Manners column, says the shift isn’t all bad, but “the most formal situations still require something written.’’

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