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Photo Rich Products Provide New Opportunities

There’s money in them pictures. 

In 2010, Instagram reported more than 100,000 users; by year’s end 2012 the photo-sharing app had warped speed to 15 million users. 

Where there are photos there are custom photo products—already big business. InfoTrends, in its 2011 Photo Merchandise End-User Study, projects that revenues from the sale of photo merchandise products, including photo cards, photo books, and photo calendars, is poised to reach $2 billion by 2014.

As far as revenue opportunities for printer, the consumer photo merchandise market is already flooded with competition. Large operations such as Shutterfly and Snapfish dominate, bolstered by brand recognition and marketing spends for customer acquisition that top out at $20 per customer annually.

Fortunately for print service providers, there is another route. InfoTrends places the market for photo rich documents for business applications at around $12 billion, a much bigger pie for sharing. 

“There is an opportunity for digital printers to identify photo rich products,” says Chris Harrold, VP, business development, Mohwak Fine Papers. The paper company launched Pinhole Press in 2010 to serve the photo product market, selling the enterprise in October, 2012 to liveBooks, Inc.

 “At the end of the day, photo apps are where it’s out, because there are so many images captured on mobile today,” says Harrold.  It’s explosive; any one with new ideas might want to keep photo in their vision. Figure out a way to turn those images into a product.”

“Digital printing systems in general lend themselves to this on-demand, short-run, customer application because of their ability to literally take digital files and print them with a few basic steps in set up,” says Ed Wong, Product Marketing, Ricoh Production Printing Business Group. “Further, these systems can be configured with in-line finishing to result in booklets without any further manual intervention.” 

Brian Segnit, a marketing manager and resident photo publishing expert for Xerox, notes “The genre is bigger than just consumer photo books; it’s almost like self-publishing. You can really do almost anything.”

Rather than take on industry giants like Snapfish, Segnit advises targeting business-to-business applications. Success in this market demands creativity, and innovative marketing and sales strategy. It isn’t as simple as posting on your company Website that you offer the service, even if you have the digital print, workflow and e-commerce software technology.

A good place to start is to demonstrate your capabilities with your own photo book or calendar. “If I am in print for pay, I want to be able to show my printing pedigree and print my own custom photo book so

customers can see firsthand what I can do,” says Segnit. “Tell customers ‘this is the press that I have—it’s the same press that you will find in major photo labs, like Snapfish. But I can take these photo rich pages and help you promote your business.’”

Perhaps you have a client that is a real estate agent, looking to sell $2 million lakefront homes.  To appeal to her high-end clientele, she puts together a bound custom book digitally printed on high-gloss photo paper, showcasing all the lakefront houses available. She will need to continually update this book, as houses are bought and sold. 

Look to the community you serve, the customers already using your digital print services. Are there local charities that sponsor golf outings? Suggest a photo book commemorating the event that the charity can give to all the premium sponsors. Perhaps they can sell advertising in the back of the book to generate revenue.

“Look at your existing customer base, and see where offering a custom photo product fits,” says Harrold. All kinds of small businesses—from contractors to interior decorators to restaurants can benefit from custom photo products. Colleges and universities and healthcare facilities are in fiercely competitive markets that require innovative marketing solutions.

“Think of ways you can help them market their services with a photo-rich product,” says Harrold.

Segnit also advises looking at your manufacturing capabilities, and seeing what is a good fit. “What are the applications I can do to enhance our digital printing operation? If all I have is signature binding, that puts me in one direction, or perhaps I can partner with others that have other binding capabilities.” 

The current crop of digital print machines—from Xerox, HP,  Ricoh, Océ, and Kodak—are capable of delivering high-quality custom photo books, calendars, and cards.

“All of the production presses we make are photo capable,” says Segnit. “But the business is much more than a digital printer. We also offer media—substrate and paper that allows you to create something unique.”

Xerox also developed  “Picture the Possibilities” business development tools to educate customers on how they get enter into this market and expand their business.

“We find that photobook customers are looking for high quality imaging with accurate color reproduction as well as the ability to print on heavier papers, and even textured papers,” says Wong. “Products like the Ricoh Pro C651EX/C751EX support paper weights up to 300gsm in simplex and print on textured papers like linen with high quality results, and can be interfaced with advanced finishing options to produce finished saddle-stitched books with three sided trim for a professional look.”

Ricoh also offers a Media Qualification Process, which allows the company to confirm the runnability of a particular stock, as well as determine the optimum printing parameters of a stock. ?

“End customers are constantly asking to print on a wider variety of media to further enhance the finished photobook, which sometimes pushes the capabilities of the system,” notes Wong.

For high-quality photo applications, HP consultants work closely with a network of partners to offer printers highly customized end-to-end solutions, says David Murphy, Director of Market Development for HP Graphics Solutions Business. “These solutions address stringent quality and workflow requirements every step of the way.”

For customized low- to mid-volume yearbooks, for example, HP offers PhotoLynx’s CamLynx DataMatch, an on-site capture and data collection system that uses professional digital cameras to produce digital output for event, school and sports photography, integrated with LumaPix’s FotoFusion, an image layout software program to take full advantage of the flexibility of all-digital layout.

Prepress solutions include Ultimate Technographics’ Impostrip Book Stacker, enabling Web-to-print photo book printers or any digital book printer to streamline workflow by automatically grouping various books together as they are prepared for production, says Murphy.

HP Indigo offers a variety of digital presses, including the HP Indigo 5600 and 7600 digital presses, both now able to produce special effects, including textured print and digital watermarks. Finishing and fulfillment options include the cutting and stacking Page Ready system from LaserMax Roll Systems, as well as a selection of perfect binders and three-knife trimmers from Horizon International and CP Bourg.

Also in the finishing arena, Duplo USA Corporation has expanded its line of equipment for the on-demand photo book industry, entering into an agreement with Photobook Technology PBT to distribute its Mitamax, Mitabook, and Mitacase products in North America.