Picture Perfect: Printing for the Photo Market

How should commercial printers approach the photo printing market? “I don’t think anybody has the total answer; that’s why people are asking the question,” suggests Gary Pageau, principal at InfoCircle Marketing Services in Jackson, MI.

“They’ve got to really do their due diligence on the software they’re going to use,” recommends Joe Rickard, Intellective Solutions, a sales and sales management training and consulting company based in Tuxedo Park, NY. Two key aspects that must not be overlooked, but sometimes are, are software and the marketing plan.

“Printers need to take a close look at the software they’re going to use and make sure they understand that buying software is different from buying new equipment,” says Rickard. “Is the (provider) well funded? If they go out of business, who’s going to hold the source code, for instance? So they need somebody who understands software if they’re using a third-party, versus developing it internally.”

And if management decides to handle the software internally, Rickard asks, “Do they have the bandwidth? Let’s say there are 10,000 people who are going to go on the site at the same time, is there security? It’s a little different than what many of them are normally used to, which is an equipment purchase. So they need to do due diligence, make sure their lawyer is looking at the contracts and arrangements, and make sure they’re looking at all the contingencies.”

Overlooking the marketing aspect is easy to do, Rickard points out. “Just because you have (a solution) doesn’t mean that someone is going to come to you. You have to have this laser-sharp focus on who is going to use it and how you’re going to get to them. The mistake people make—in fact, this is probably the biggest mistake, now that I think of it—is that because they have it, they just assume they’re going to get business. It’s similar to Web-to-print and storefronts. People think they have it and so people are going to buy it, and that’s not necessarily the case. There is a lot of competition out there.”


The Question of Equipment

One of the things about breaking into the photography market that Pageau finds appealing is the fact that the investment in equipment could be negligible to nonexistent. “Most printers already have everything they need—like some sort of press, whether it’s an iGen, or the Indigo, or even a smaller DocuColor-type printer. Then they can go up to the big NexPress type. So if you have all the other equipment—trimming equipment and position software—you’ve probably got most of it. Then it depends on how deeply you want to go into it. For example, a lot of the growth in the category is in the dye-sub thermal market, where you are making iPhone covers, mugs, mouse pads, and things like that.”

According to Pageau, savvy printers can get into the photography market by doing some of their own production and farming out the rest. “For example, if you’ve got a color press you may have to buy some binding equipment if you’re going to make photo books. If you’re going to do collages, you’re going to need a wide-format printer.”

But with some of the specialty products that are high margin, but not necessarily high volume—such as canvas prints and even certain kinds of photo books and dye-sublimation products—“what a lot of people do is dedicate their own production to the things they do best,” he notes. “Then, depending on their software platform, they use subcontractors or outsourcers for the specialty products. That’s very common.”

Printers then shrewdly focus on marketing their major products, the things they do, “then try and upsell a mug or whatever and not have it take up any space in your shop. It would be done in their facility and you would get a commission on that sale.”


Market Identification

Two excellent markets for photography work, Pageau believes, are small-to-medium businesses and “mommies”. “If you look at the big players in the industry, the Shutterflys and Snapfishes, they’re going after the mommies, which is a good market. I mean, there are a lot of mommies who want to do creative things with their pictures, and they’re willing to spend more money on the pictures of their families.” The problem, though, is that they tend to be highly price sensitive and not very loyal. “They’ll switch for a coupon.”

As for small and medium businesses looking for photo business cards, collateral, and the like, he adds, “This is where you’re competing against VistaPrint or someone like that. Really, at some point, there is no real photography market; it’s just all color printing. It’s not quite there yet, but that’s where a lot of the traditional photo players haven’t made a huge inroad.”

Translation: opportunity.