The economics of Christmas cards

Commenting on the inefficiency of Christmas gift giving is now almost as much a Christmas tradition as Santa and Christmas trees. The Australia Institute was at it again this year.

But the odd economics of Christmas cards has received less comment. It’s hard to buy cards without contributing to a cause, typically noted on the back of the card. The people who have sent me cards this year have supported: the Australian Red Cross, a British disability charity (promising that money from their cards helps disabled people express themselves through photography and other technology), the Make-A-Wish foundation, the Peter Mac Cancer Centre, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, the 1959 Group of Charities (26 charities listed), Kids Helpline and the Smith Family.

And even when you buy a card from a for-profit company there is no escaping your environmental obligations:’This card is made with recycled paper (20% recycled fiber)’, ‘This card is made with paper from sustainably managed forests’, and my favourite this year ‘it’s good to be green – this paper is 30% recycled, processed chlorine free and manufactured with wind energy’, though I suspect they did not use wind energy to transport it from Canada, where it was printed, to Melbourne, where I bought it.

Is all this part of a strategy to get us to pay $5 or more for a bit of card with printing costs of perhaps 50 cents? That we don’t mind paying far too much if we are contributing to a good cause or helping to save the environment? There are many other examples of bundling products with causes or charities – eg fair trade coffee, The Big Issue – but Christmas cards are a rare product line where bundling seems like the norm.

As my family solves the Christmas gift-giving inefficiency by buying from co-ordinated lists everyone has a pretty good idea of what they are going to get, so I want to buy a good card as it is the only real thought I put into the gift. If it’s clever or pretty (for female gift recipients; guys don’t do pretty) I don’t mind paying the price. But sometimes I’d like more of a choice just to buy the card, without the charity or cause.

7 thoughts on “The economics of Christmas cards

  1. By me a $5 bargain bin or second hand dvd or cd, write on the insert, almost guaranteed not to go into the rubbish bin – at worst, it goes to the op shop.

    Hmmm. Buy it from the op shop in the first place!


  2. Unfortunately for you, Andrew, most families work the opposite way – people are happy with the basic ten pack-type Xmas cards but then sweat over the actual gifts. Surely what you say in the card is more important that the cleverness/prettiness of the designer?


  3. I’m afraid my typical card messages are not very impressive. The sentiment is genuine, but mostly the words are cliches. I pay my $5 to pay someone to think of something more clever or attractive than I could think of.


  4. But sometimes I’d like more of a choice just to buy the card, without the charity or cause.

    Andrew, you need to get out more (out of Carlton, that is). In the good old ‘burbs you’ll find lots of newsagents selling lots of cards with no causes attached except commerce (which is one cause I’m sure you can bring yourself to support ;-))


  5. Why this bundling? Do we like doing lots of signalling with individual products (both show that you care about your family and show that you care about the environment etc). I guess it’s one of relatively few things you buy that is going to be given to another person and have writing on it through which you can blatantly signal the causes you care about.


  6. Alan – Most of my sample was from cards sent to me by suburb-dwelling friends and relatives. But there were a few cards with no charity involvement and no environmental message.


  7. How about the inefficiency of Christmas Lights? Its amazing how the same (suburban) families proudly participate in ‘Earth Hour’ and then burn tonnes of coal lighting their homes with Christmas lights.


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