Friday, May 11, 2007

How Much Do I Love You?

As gas continues to inch toward 4 bucks a gallon for no apparent reason, another far more insidious price hike has all but flown under the radar. I refer, of course, to the skyrocketing cost of greeting cards.

It used to be that these pre-fab sentiments maxed out at $1.99—and that was for a super-sized frilly one with lots of glitter. Gag cards were even cheaper. (As the Academy Awards have taught us, comedy is never valued as highly as drama). Then I blinked and suddenly those little numbers next to the bar code had shot up to $2.99, $3.99 and, holy sticker shock, $5.99.

I don’t get it. What with email and e-cards, you’d think Hallmark and its partners in schmaltz would be lowering prices to win back customers who’ve abandoned them for the Web. But, similar to the Post Office, which just continues to raise and raise the price of stamps, card manufacturers seem intent on speeding their own demise.

Much like their oil producing brethren, members of the greeting card cartel think they have us over the proverbial barrel. It’s a given that your car won’t operate without gas. The card companies are equally certain that you wouldn’t dare send a Valentine’s greeting via the Internet. Or, perish the thought, not send one to your sweetie at all.

I don’t know that it ranks up there with getting people to buy bottled water, but the whole notion of the greeting card is a genius bit of marketing. Entire holidays have been created in its service and we never stop to question why. Because we’d rather put up with Secretary’s Day than pen a rhyming couplet of our own to perfectly encapsulate the relationship we have with our brother-in-law on his birthday.

Mother’s Day, to mix a metaphor, is the granddaddy of the greeting card industry. If you’ve perused a rack of this particular product in the past day or two, you know what I’m talking about. The cards are big enough to justify their own ZIP code, because the bigger the card, clearly the greater the love—or the greater the guilt. Or they’re festooned with such a multiplicity of gew gaws that I’m fairly certain Hallmark’s assembly line has been overrun by a cabal of scrapbookers.

The more crap they affix to the card, the more they can charge. And clearly, no one’s balking. Come Sunday afternoon, the racks will have been picked clean--$5.99 a seemingly small price to pay for honoring either: the woman who nurtured you and made you into the outstanding human being that you are, or, the woman who, for $5.99 you can avoid talking to on the telephone or visiting in person for another year.

I am this/close to calling the card companies’ bluff. As I picked out my own Mother’s Day card, flipping each sample over, not particularly subtly, to assess the damage, I came across the $5.99-er , which recommended a padded envelope for mailing. Factor in tax, special envelope and, in all likelihood, additional postage, and I’d be out close to $10. For a card. And this thought actually flitted across my mind: “Sorry Mom, I don’t love you that much.”

Well, I mean, I do. But someone has to draw a line in the sand. Note to Hallmark: Mine, it appears, is $4.99.


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