Attending my first National Stationery Show at New York City’s iconic Javits Center as part of Sent-Well‘s crew in 2018 opened a door for me to the vast — and welcoming — community of stationery makers, suppliers, and retailers. From industry superstars like Papyrus to one-person indie startups, a huge range of talents, styles, and tastes from all across the U.S. were represented.
This year, industry gatherings such as these were among the many pandemic-induced conversions of in-person conferences to virtual events. One upside of the online format was the availability of a free webinar from the Greeting Card Association (GCA) called “Increasing Connections to Make a Difference” yesterday that was open to anyone who wished to participate. I registered and attended, and was glad I did. Here are a few interesting nuggets I picked up.
1. How many greeting card publishers exist in the United States right now?
Given the dizzying array of card types and designs I’ve seen over the course of my life, the universe of card publishers would seem potentially infinite. On the other hand, the difficulty of securing wide enough distribution to stay financially viable over time, combined with the heavy corporate consolidation in recent years, would reduce their ranks considerably. According to the GCA, there are 2,000+ greeting card publishers in the U.S. at the moment.
2. What is keeping the greeting card industry alive in this digital age?
Ironically, millennials — the first generation to enter a digital world at birth — have comprised a substantial base of printed greeting card consumers and designers in the United States. The industry has persisted despite predictions that social media and other electronic communications vehicles would kill it. Perhaps because of being steeped in online culture right from the start, millennials are in the best position to appreciate the unique joy and extra personal touch that only a handwritten card can provide, and to put their own spin on cards to keep them fresh, innovative, and relevant. An exploration of this phenomenon can be found in a 2019 article from NPR/WNYC.
3. How is the greeting card industry responding to the unprecedented personal struggles arising from COVID-19?
In recognition of the extraordinary challenges people are facing in their lives at this particular juncture, a variety of movements within the greeting card community have emerged. Among them are two major initiatives discussed during the webinar to mobilize the greeting card industry and consumers alike.
18MillionThanks, launched by card maker Good JuJu Ink, provides a call to action and a platform through which to send messages of gratitude to the roughly 18 million healthcare workers in the United States by August 31. The campaign encourages card senders to buy their cards from a network of participating small-shop card makers and send them to healthcare professionals at a network of participating hospitals. Within this same time frame, the campaign also aims to raise $18,000 to support the mental health of frontline workers who are Black/Indigenous/People of Color.
Thinking of You Week, Sept. 21-27, 2020, began in the U.K. in 2014 and reached U.S. shores in 2018 with the GCA’s sponsorship, but takes on special significance this September just as students, educators, and parents enter a school year rife with uncertainty. Unlike a birthday, anniversary, or other occasion for which specific types of cards abound, Thinking of You Week encourages the sending of cards “just because” to people who may not expect them. A comprehensive toolkit is available to assist greeting card publishers and retailers in promoting their offerings in conjunction with this initiative.
4. How is the greeting card industry addressing issues of systemic racism?
Like so many other fields, the greeting card industry is overwhelmingly white. Among the factors reinforcing this trend is the low visibility of products from nonwhite entrepreneurs among retailers positioned to extend their sales footprint. As part of this year’s Noted virtual conference, the GCA introduced a new “Focus on Diversity” pitch session elevating the offerings of Black business owners and makers to directly connect them with retailers from across the country. Conference sponsors subsidized all pitch fees to eliminate economic barriers to participation. Furthermore, 50% of the proceeds from fees charged to retailers comprising the audience will cover registration fees for a Black maker at next year’s Noted conference.
5. How did the holiday card tradition begin in America?
Even with a month of summer still to go, webinar panelists advised card makers to send their holiday catalogs to retailers now if they hadn’t done so already. German engraver and printer Louis Prang, who emigrated to Boston to further his career in the mid-nineteenth century, is credited with developing and popularizing the first American Christmas cards in the 1870s. He first exported his cards to London, then built on their great success there to sell them throughout the northeast United States, and had the entire American market cornered about two years later. A New England Historical Society article provides additional background and showcases some of his designs. He inspired the name of the GCA’s LOUIE Awards, which celebrate the best cards in the industry each year.
The epic challenges of this year are a defining moment for interpersonal relationships. I’m excited by the ways in which the greeting card industry is helping people to support each other at a time when tangible reminders of connection and love are more important than ever.