Getting the Message

By Art Buchwald
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two main ways that Americans communicate with each other are by cellphone and greeting card. Since I've been in the hospice, I'm getting more greeting cards than cellphone calls.

It gives me a chance to study one of the largest industries in America. I also get to learn about the habits of greeting-card consumers.

I have received every kind of card, including "Happy Birthday." The ones that I get the biggest kick out of, since I'm in a hospice, are the "Get Well" cards. Some people just haven't figured out what I'm doing here.

According to the Greeting Card Association, the average person receives more than 20 cards per year. The average price of a card is $2 to $4. But if you want the card to talk, it's going to cost you $10.

People send greeting cards because it saves them the time of writing a letter. Hallmark will do it for you. Cards also alleviate guilt, particularly if the receiver is not feeling well. Some people feel obligated to send you a funny card -- no matter how much trouble you're in. They not only send you the card, but they also call you up to find out if you got it. And if you don't react the way they expect you to, they're hurt.

Some time ago, when I was in Kansas City, I visited the Hallmark campus. There were several buildings and I was given a tour. I asked, "Where are the funny cards written?" My guide said, "We have a special building for those writers, and no one else can enter it." I walked by, hoping to hear laughter, but there was dead silence. The guide said, "They have no sense of humor."

The typical card I receive has no printed message, just a pretty picture on the front and blank inside so you can write your own note. This takes lot of creativity, particularly when you're sending a card to someone in a hospice.

The most difficult cards are those that are signed with only a first name like Joan, Mary or Susan. The sender assumes they are the only Joan, Mary or Susan you know. To make sure you remain perplexed, they don't put a return address on the envelope.

Of course, postage plays a big role in greeting cards. The price of a stamp keeps going up all the time. It's now 39 cents, but it's still cheaper than a gallon of gasoline.

Greeting card companies are constantly thinking up new holidays or occasions to get people to buy cards. You have Administrative Professionals Day (formerly Secretaries Day), Grandmother's Day, Sister-in-Law's Day, and there are even cards that people can send when they want to break up with their lovers.

Eighty percent of card buyers are women. And women are more likely than men to buy several cards at once, but men generally spend more on a single card than women do.

The most popular cards are birthday cards, which represent 60 percent of all cards purchased, but there is still a big market for sympathy cards.

I don't expect to receive any Valentine's Day cards, but it would be nice if I were still around to get Christmas cards.

People ask me what I'm doing with all the cards that have been sent to me. I put them in a shoebox and they become part of my estate.

2006Tribune Media Services

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