I’m hardly the first to note the many failures of the greeting card market. If I were, we wouldn’t have someecards to amuse us. However, I think it’s worth noting my frustrations.
I am a person who writes a fair number of letters. Fewer than was the case when I rode the bus to work, or was regularly 5-10 minutes early to classes. However, I still write a few. To me, the physical artefact of a letter still means something. So I like noting events with cards. However, I like, you know, writing in them. Which means, of course, that my first problem with cards is not uncommon:
1. Dear cardmakers, shut the heck up (and cool it with the lace.) Since the mid-90s or so, the market has opened up such that cards which are simple in wording (“Happy Birthday!” “Congrats!”) do exist, and cards with more attractive aesthetics than “a doily on every square inch” also exist. However, they don’t prevail, and they’re not the default. If you’re browsing a small collection, or in a hurry, good luck1.
2. Check your social assumptions if you want to make money. Now, I’ve heard rumors that Hallmark has started making same-sex marriage congrats cards, but I haven’t seen them. And the assumptions go deeper than that. To put it coarsely, 80% of the marriage cards in the market cause unbearable cognitive dissonance in the mind of a divorced prospective purchaser. Even those who do heed #1 and keep themselves to a sentence tend to drip with Patriarchal and romance-cultic assumptions I find toxic. And let’s not even get into gendered birthday cards. You don’t have to make actively pinko feminist cards to please me. You just need to have options. They’ll sell.
Related to both previous points, 3. Stock a greater variety of card messages. I was recently at a gift shop, trying to pick up a Congrats card for a friend who won an amazingly huge poetry prize Of Awesomeness. 65% Birthday cards (of which 50% specify the relationship on the cover, for Extra Glurge and Extra Not Actually Requiring Effort), 10% Wedding, 10% Wedding Anniversary, 10% Baby, 3% Sympathy (all ugly as sin, and glurgey), and 2% Get Well Soon. I could have used a birthday card for a specific, non-pooky friend (that, I found.) I WANTED a congrats card. I could have used sympathy and get-well cards to replenish my supplies at home. But I bought none, because they had such a paucity that overwordiness and aesthetic horror were almost a given. Look, I know birthdays are the most common card occasion. But would it kill you to have one fewer rack of them? Maybe knock out the fourth ‘grandson’ title, and put a freakin’ congrats card?
The reason I think this relates to #2 is simple: demographics. A lot of my friends are writers. Most of those, and a huge segment of those remaining, are grad students. They are in a part of their life where they’re accomplishing great things. Many of them already have families, or aren’t going to have families for a while—baby cards need not apply. Many of them are already married, or aren’t getting married until they’re NEVER. Things I want to send cards about include graduating from grad school, getting nursing licenses, winning poetry prizes, having books published. Yeah, I can just write a letter, but having my friend open the envelope and see a big pretty “Congratulations!” rendered far more artistically than I can manage is fun. I’m sure the card industry, like every damn industry based on paper and post, is worried about the future. Well, I’m the future. I don’t look like June Cleaver and I don’t want to send the cards she did. Figure it out.
1 One great brand seems to be Recycled Paper Greetings which sadly has no working “where to get ‘em” software on their website. They offer, however, artists like Masha D’yans, who watercolors vibrant, whimsical cards that don’t have a lot of palaver. And whose site links to two online shops that carry her line. If only she had more congrats cards, this whole rant would disappear in a puff of logic.