Using the Internet to Crack the Greeting Card Marketby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, February 1998
Is writing for the greeting card industry a quick path to riches? Looking over the cards in gift shops, one might think so. "Hey, I could have written this," you tell yourself. However, while there are possibilities and open markets in the greeting card industry there is no free lunch. You have to study the markets, learn about the industry and compete with other writers for your portion of this lucrative market.
The greeting card industry is a 7 billion dollar industry. There are three companies that command a staggering 85% of the marketshare; these companies being Hallmark, American Greetings and Gibson Greetings1. Keep in mind that only a small portion of this 7 billion dollars is the amount paid to freelancers. A large portion of the seven billion goes to paper costs, printing costs and artists' costs. Furthermore, those figures include winter holiday card sales figures. Many of the greetings on holiday cards are the same from year to year; no new writing was involved. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will sell a freelance card idea to one of these big three companies in this industry. American Greetings and Hallmark do not accept unsolicited submissions and competition is fierce in the larger and higher paying markets. If you want a role in writing cards for these companies you might be better off considering a staff position at the company. Each of these companies' websites contains job pages that you might consider watching if this is what you are interested in.
However, there are many other greeting card companies, most of which do accept some freelance work. This creates some interesting opportunities for the creative writer. A majority of the greeting card industry's spending is for the artwork for the card rather than the writing, so if you have artistic abilities you may have even more opportunities. According to the Greeting Card Association ("GCA") there are over 1500 greeting card publishers -- a considerable number. An interesting development in the industry has been the use of the internet to send cards. With some electronic cards the user selects animations, pictures or sounds and then writes his own message, while others come with a pre-written messages that the user can amend or "personalize". The electronic greeting cards include both paying and free distribution models.
A recent development was Yahoo!'s incorporation of Hallmark's electronic cards into its massive website. Also, a new company called the Outpost Network offers a service where the user selects a greeting (or writes his own), stationery, and addressee all online. The final card is then distributed by the postal service to the chosen recipient. Another interesting company is Greet Street, an electronic card distributor, who has been in the news often in the last year. Greet Street recently entered into a financial agreement with Gibson Greetings in which Gibson Greetings will become a content provider for Greet Street's E-greetings line of electronic greeting cards. In the long run, electronic cards could have significant impact on the greeting card industry and shift some of the opportunities for writers from the standard print format to electronic cards. It could also possibly change the standard submission format from sending in a batch of index cards containing verses to submitting them by email. However, the majority of greeting card submissions are still handled the old-fashioned way.
Submitting Greeting Card Verse.
Greeting card publishers have different ways they want ideas submitted to them; some require the ideas sent in on index cards, one idea to a card while others want the ideas all on one piece of standard 81/2 x 11 paper. To find out the correct format you need to mail in a SASE to the publisher and request the writer's guidelines.
Many greeting cards publishers request that your ideas be submitted as a batch of index cards of up to as many as ten ideas per batch. Each verse should be typed, double-spaced, on the index card, with your name and address in the upper left-hand corner. Your should always enclose a SASE with your batch, as with any kind of submission. Notes and suggestions about artwork may be typed at the bottom of the card containing the verse, but are not required2.
Publishers' requirements differ so it is wise to request guidelines for each publisher in order to meet their individual requirements. The 1998 Writer's Market contains brief market listings of about 40 commercial greeting card markets. Pay rates by publishers in their listings varies from as little as $20 per idea to as much $150 per idea.
What Can I Find Out Using The Internet?
The Internet can give you advantage in cracking the greeting card market. Using the Web you can look through the publishers' catalogs online (to get ideas and see what they are publishing), find addresses for requesting guidelines, and learn more about the company by reading its history or recent press releases. Writers Write® has created a new section where you will find links to many of the greeting card publishers at http://www.writerswrite.com/greetingcards/. The Greeting Card Association also has pertinent information including statistics on the industry and links to publishers at http://www.greetingcard.org/.
The leaders in the industry, American Greetings, Gibson Greetings and Hallmark each have large websites. Employment opportunities for Gibson Greetings and Hallmark can be found on their websites. Hallmark notes that they often hire creative types with backgrounds in fields like advertising, creative writing, journalism and theatre. The job area for Hallmark can be found at http://www.hallmark.com/ourcompany_bin/careers/careers.asp and the Gibson Greetings job area is at http://www.gibsongreetings.com/careers.html. American Greetings does not currently have a job section, but they do have a large corporate information site at http://corporate.americangreetings.com/ where you will find out company information. American Greetings and Hallmark each have large card catalogs online where you can read verses and see what is popular in these successful commercial brands. If you want to watch what they are up to, you might regularly visit their press release sections as well.
Smaller companies (which are more apt to pay freelancers for greeting card verse) also have websites, some of which are more open to writers. Blue Mountain Arts, for example, is currently running a poetry contest for writers through its website with prizes of up to $300, available at http://www.bluemountain.com/esub/contest1/, but it expires on Feb 20th so you'd better hurry. However, it is a tri-annual contest so they may run it again in the future. One interesting note: winning entries may be sent as electronic greetings. It is likely that many of the publishers will eventually have guidelines for freelancers available on their websites, however their first priority is selling. Until then, you can obtain the publisher's address online and then request the guidelines by mail.
The Internet offers a great opportunity for writers of greeting card verse to stay on top of trends. Each publisher with a site usually has at least samples of its line and many have a large catalog online. For example, The C-ya Greeting Card Company, a publisher of relationship closure greeting cards has more than enough samples online for the writer to get a feel for its cards. In addition to the publisher sites you may want to take a look at the Outpost Network's site which offers cards for a variety of occasions and seasons. Another site where you can view cards is Greet Street at http://www.greetst.com.
The Internet may make changes for the better like making it easier to submit card ideas to publishers and easier to find out about small niche markets we may never have found out about. It already is creating an advantage in learning about a publisher's card line without a trip to the card store or requesting a catalog. Unfortunately, it could also tighten the industry and allow the big publishers to increase their market share and shrink the portion that goes to writers. The greeting card industry is certainly an opportunity for writers, but it requires attention like every other kind of writing market. Still, some people just have knack for writing short catchy phrases. If you think you do and you are looking for a writing career, you may want to give it a shot.
1 See, 1998 Writers Market, pg. 971, (Writers Digest Books, 1998)
2See, Preparing Your Manuscript, pg. 68, (The Writer, Inc., 1994)
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.