The Greeting Card Market
My research and interest in the new markets for your creative services includes the "paper products" marketplace. This article originally appeared in Rangefinder Magazine but has been so often requested that we repeat it here for your information!
As we enter the end of a very turbulent decade, new clients and markets are topics close to the heart of every freelancer. You have had upheavals in new technology, clients and the budgets for your services. In addition, you are probably looking for a market for many "personal" images not marketable to traditional commercial clients. How about greeting cards? Whatever happens with our commercial clients, the consumer greeting card market is here to stay and grow!
Most interesting is the tremendous growth of photographic and other alternative images used by the greeting card publishers. With gross sales projections over the six and one half billion-dollar range, several major publishers buying shelf space in major consumer outlets for their cards dominate this market. You'll find competition to get into their "stables" is quite fierce. Since nearly fifteen percent of the above dollars are generated from the smaller alternative greeting card publishers, they may be your best bet for entry into this market. This figure is expected to increase to an almost two billion dollar slice of the "pie".
Your first decision is whether to self-publish or find a greeting card publisher to print and distribute your cards to the end consumer. Some of the top multi-million dollar grossing alternative photo greeting card publishers includes: Avanti, Fotofolio, Museum Graphics, Palm Press, Portal and Pomegranate Press.
Let's look at one of the up and coming firms in the alternative publishing company. Jeff Richey and Dave Parrish started their firm, Photopia Images Inc., in November of 1980. With offices in San Francisco (California) and Boulder (Colorado), Photopia has more than 300 different cards in their line. The key to their success in the alternative card market is finding their niche of humor and sentimental images. Their line of cards also breaks down into their best-selling seasons. First, birthday cards are the most successful, then Christmas, followed by Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. They also do very well with the same cards without copy ("blanks"). With an initial print run per card of 5,000, their selectivity appeals to the higher end and more affluent consumer. They started their business as photographer's reps and in 1988 launched their first line of cards. Their new business launch was successful because it was based on a theme. They used the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge to produce a very successful poster and followed by a matching card set. Following that success, they went straight to the client, the retailer. At a San Francisco Gift Show they asked the exhibiting retailers, "What do you need that you don't have enough of?" The answer, "Black and white photographic postcards", launched a business with gross sales in the six figures today!
How To Submit
The submission process to a publisher begins with good research. The 1999 Photographer's Market or the 1999 Artists and Graphic Designer's Market (Writer's Digest Books) are the best references. Be sure to place your order for the Year 2000 Books now! Though not a "phonebook" of all greeting card publishers, it lists extensive information provided by those publishers looking for images. So if a publisher is not listed for any given year, that's their way of saying "We're full up!"
The same publisher offers the 1999 Writer's Market as a good cross-reference for those of you with writing and image-making skills. Though you can call if you have any questions about submission instructions, it is always better to send 10 great shots than 100 mediocre images. Edit your work ruthlessly and follow the recommendations for submission formats very carefully. Always send a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return of your work. Dave and Jeff at Photopia also recommend you design, produce and print a promo piece for the publisher to keep on file. Since the shelf life of a photo greeting card is only thirty to forty five days, you know that these publishers are constantly in need of new, strong selling images!
Many publishers choose to pay a royalty of 2% to 10% on the wholesale price based on sales of your cards and have set payment schedules (quarterly or annually). Be sure to determine whether royalty is based on cards printed or cards sold. Whenever possible, ask for a guaranteed advance. As with any photography pricing, everything is negotiable! Be sure to discuss free copies of the cards, the issue of exclusivity and photo credits. Always record the usage you are selling. Though your image can then be sold in other markets, any original or subsequent clients should know it is in the greeting card market.
How To Self-Publish Your Own Cards
Since the greeting card industry has about a 30% turnover in new start-up publishers each year self-publishing is a good option to consider. The key to self-publishing your own line of cards is to find a theme and a niche market. You need a "theme" that is so well defined that the important retail outlet is more discernible. To define your market, Dave at Photopia recommends you start your research with a focus group. For example, for every group of images Dave and Jeff they plan to print, a presentation binder of prints is prepared. A group of about 100 women, age's twenty-five years to fifty-five years, reviews the presentation. Dave cautions to ask the right question when using a focus group. He asks them, "What cards would they buy?" instead of the less useful question, "What cards do they like?" Dave feels this information will help you determine your niche market, and help distinguish your favorite images from a best-selling greeting card.
Since the major publishers have the grocery chains and department stores "locked up"; self-published greeting cards are more successful in their own outlets. These include stationary stores, retail gift shops, craft shops, bookstores, airport and hotel gift shops, car washes, even hardware stores. Also, since retailers need to charge twice your wholesale price, this will influence your design and production decisions when you self-publish. The key is to concentrate on a theme and find the best retail outlet for it.