empty inboxAre you getting less email these days? I am. And that can’t be good news for email marketers. Is email beginning to wither on the vine?

By “less,” I’m not referring to work email (if only!) or messages from marketers, but less of the type of email that added a little frisson to checking the inbox: fun, flirty, and conversational messages from friends, family, and objects of affection. That stuff is now flowing in through all sorts of other digital channels, of which email constitutes a smaller and smaller part.

It’s certainly not as if I hear any less from my nearest and
dearest. It just isn’t necessarily via email anymore. Some friends who
have had my email address for years only ping me via Facebook these
days (what a freaking pain – you have to go to Facebook to reply to
them – yet they persist). Or they simply update their profiles when
they have something to communicate. Others prefer to stay in touch via
SMS or IM, and more and more Twitter’s direct message function is the
channel of choice for on-the-fly communications.

Hey, who doesn’t dig having options? Well, perhaps it’s something email marketers should begin to question.

Since the internet began gaining in popularity, email has been the #1 online activity. It still unquestionably is, but I more than suspect other channels will make serious inroads into email’s efficacy. Think about it: when your inbox holds only the promise of work, electronic invoices, bank and credit card statements and advertising, doesn’t it lose value? Where’s the engagement? Where’s the content that impels users to cuddle up and spend quality time in the channel?

Email is becoming the equivalent of snail mail. You dip into your postal box daily to collect the handful of bills and circulars that aren’t yet emailized, but when’s the last time you were delighted by a postcard from a friend, or a sweet billet-doux? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And you’re not holding your breath for the next one, are you?

Teens and young adults were the first to disengage from email. “They just don’t use it at all, ” marvelled agency types as long as five or six years ago. They text. They IM. And increasingly, so do the rest of us.

Smartphones are doing their part to throttle the channel, too. HTML doesn’t render on a Blackberry? Delete. It’s a newsletter? OK, right – but first I have to check this text.

Dont get me wrong here. Email’s not going away any time soon. But what it will have to do, and soon, is adapt to new realities. The inbox is shrinking…as other forms of messaging storm the floodgates.