The boom and bust of eCards

One of the huge stars of the early Internet was e-cards -static, animated-GIF, or Flash alternatives to a standard ink andpaper Hallmark card, not to mention that you could save yourself acouple of bucks and the hassle of going out and buying and mailinga traditional card (the biggest boon to men like myself was thatyou could quickly send one off on the day in question – no eventpre-planning necessary).

One of the biggest successes of the e-card phenomena wasBlue Mountain. My firstexperience with Blue Mountain was actually by mistake – I waslooking for some ski conditions, and instead of http://www.bluemountain.ca/ Ientered http://www.bluemountain.com. Ofcourse I capitalized on my mistake, immediately sending somegoofy e-cards to friends and relatives. Of course many of therecipients started using the service as well. I suspect that thetipping point for that company – the contagious source vector -came when winter rolled around in Ontario and the powder was justright, and lots of misdirected Ontarians figured they might as welluse the service since they were there.

During those early days e-cards were sent in bulk. It was goodtimes in the e-card business, and marketing was easy: Everyrecipient was encouraged to send their own e-cards, so growth wasexponential.

Excite @ Home bought BlueMountain for a blistering $780 million dollars in 1999.

Of course, as with most quick-ascent fads, people started toquestion e-cards: It the sentiment was so cheap, and required solittle personal effort, was it really a substitute for a realcard? Was it just a thoughtless form of spam, quicklydiscarded and ignored It didn’t take long for that sort of feelingto pervade the marketplace.

If this were an episode of Behind the Music, dark and disturbingmusic would be playing. The Dire Straights of e-cards were upon theindustry.

Excite @ Home unloaded BlueMountain for $35 million in 2001. If the business wereindividually valuated today, I highly doubt it would come anywhereclose to even that number.

This thought came to mind given the almost-absence of e-cardsI’ve seen this holiday season. Perhaps it’s just me, and my networkof contacts is unique in its reliance upon traditional cards, butit is a remarkable contrast. I did receive one e-card – from a webhost – and quite honestly it bordered on a bit offensive getting aholiday greetings card that I know was spun off from a mass mailingscript.