Anthony Horowitz wrote a little piece in the Telegraph this week about greeting cards. It was rather curmudgeonly. Not only was he curmudgeonly about having to buy his presumably long suffering wife a Valentine card – he seemed at huge pains to go out and look for one – he was also curmudgeonly about the cards on offer in the high street shops. And on the basis of this unenthusiastic escapade, he decided to write an article that poo-pooed the idea of sending cards and the greetings card industry.
Now clearly, I have a vested interest here, being a greetings card publisher who has so far failed to get onto the high street (but would secretly love to be there) but the article was hugely unfair, not only to greetings cards but also to the industry.
I’ve been producing my own cards, based on my photographs (see image), for about nine months, and I’m exhibiting at this years Progressive Greetings trade fair in London this May. My cards have been selling well locally, online and at markets, and they’ve got a bit of a following. I’ve been trying to expand my reach into shops with more than just a single branch and have found it very hard. To take the shops on the high street as a barometer of the whole industry is a huge mistake – the high street sells in bulk to lots of people and, within each ‘market’ or socio-economic group, they need to sell to the common denominator. This, frankly, leaves many people wanting something better, and can effectively leave them without any choice on the high street. Hello, Mr Horowitz.
Now, I agree that the high street – and particularly the chains – offers possibilities that are a bit bland and lack a bit of spark. I too hate vintage photos with humourless captions, cartoon animals making fart jokes with googly eyes and the whole Keep Calm and Carry On trend has really run its course. Scribbler is far too profane for my palate and Clinton, despite the rebrand, still retains the Forever Friends and helium balloon naffness that it always had. Paperchase I can tolerate, and I’d merrily shop there, and I’d frequent Smiths and Waterstones for their blank art cards, but that’s just me. No doubt, they are there because they meet a demand.
Beyond this, there are so many talented artists, illustrators and photographers out there making cards that are beautiful, funny, elegant, characterful and inspiring. They trade on Etsy, Folksy and other online stores; they’re found in your local independent bookstore, in your tearooms, in your local card shop, at markets and fairs all over the country. They make great stuff and they’re often not selling enough to encourage them to make more – so we risk losing them altogether. They can’t get into the big stores because they can’t get to the buyers or the agents or the owners; or they’re frozen out because they’re not part of Woodmanstere or Medici or some other massive distributor.
So, Mr. Horowitz, the problem is partly with the high street seller, but not with the industry. Also, the problem is partly with you. The right cards are out there for you (and your wife), and the choice might even revitalise your love life. You’re just looking in the wrong places. You might even like my cards, but you ain’t necessarily gonna find what you want on the high street; dig a little deeper.