Smartphones are ruining the photo print segment, right? Au contraire – the market for printed photos has long been more than just ink on paper, because photos are the perfect example of what I term the digital/print symbiosis! So what’s happening in the online photo products market?
There are a number of growth areas in the online photo print segment. And as previously mentioned, these have for a long time not just been limited 20 “X”-sized copies. The major providers have to do more than just provide a 10×15 photo in just a few clicks or touches, because the volume of “simply” printed photos has not increased in the last few years – and presumably won’t increase in the future despite the higher overall quantity of photos taken. After all, around 1.7 trillion digital photos were taken in 2017, according to estimates by Futuresource. At forecast annual growth of around 9% until 2021, there is enough potential for all kinds of different photo print products. More options and a higher frequency of photo-related services – photos are usually taken using smartphones – are therefore needed to give potential customers a genuine incentive to translate their digital pics into a haptic i.e. printed photo experience.
But first things first: what is positive is that the increasing quantity of photos, regardless of the equipment used to take them, is having a direct impact on the quantity of printed photo products available. But that’s only happening because the range of substrate options is constantly widening. The quality of smartphone photos is also improving, meaning the potential print customer can have more than just the standard photo or photobook produced in mini format. I recently discussed to what extent that opens up new avenues for generating photo print product sales with Philipp Mühlbauer, CEO of Picanova. What emerged from this conversation was that innovation and speed are key factors in the photo print segment. That’s because convenient photo print services are making a difference now and will continue to do so in the future. Convenience is the keyword here – simple ordering procedures are a pivotal service feature when seeking access to print products, especially where more complex print products are involved – and it’s no different as far as online photo print is concerned. The photo merchandise segment in particular is benefitting from this trend, and according to Futuresource it has grown annually by between 7% and 8% since 2015 and will grow equally fast until 2021, until it reaches a volume of more than 350 million Euros just in Germany alone (incidentally a lucrative business, which even Amazon does not seem to be ignoring, but more about that later). The Evergreen Photobook managed some 9.4 million copies in Germany in 2017 – at a value of more than 300 million Euros. In the case of photobooks, smart access in particular as well as larger formats and more exclusive materials will determine segment growth, and that is likely to be around 3 % per annum until 2021.
At any rate it’s worth taking a look at the largest German photo print provider – Cewe. Although its annual report for 2017 will only be published at the end of March, its pre-publication sales figure of 599 million Euros, which equates to a sales increase of 1.1 % compared to 2016, clearly says “growth”. That’s because EBIT has increased by nearly 5 % to 49.2 million Euros. By almost fully acquiring (80 % of the shares) the Paris-based photo finishing app market leader Cheerz – a Stardust Media And Communication S.A.S brand – in February, the Oldenburg-based company also took a big step in the direction of smartphone-generated photo print and at the same time expanded internationally. That’s because Cheerz is growing in Southern Europe in particular and Cewe’s D/A/CH business is also set to benefit from the French company’s substantial app-supported know-how. And at 36 million Euros (according to Cewe) that could prove to be a real steal, just in terms of technological gain. That will be validated in Cewe’s 2018 annual report – so we will have to wait and see whether this acquisition boosts sales growth once again.
“In the first instance most photos taken using a smartphone are shared on social media. So the approach that needs to be taken is to reach out to potential print customers right here.” – Bernd Zipper
In other words – being able to get photos printed directly from social media channels – that is part of the future. Fancy any other examples? To quote just two here: ReSnap provides a social media-compatible option of uploading photos directly from Instagram or Facebook. The software automatically selects suitable (in both technical and quality terms) photos from the chosen album and places these in an automatically generated layout in the previously selected book format. Et voilà – your conveniently mobile-generated photobook is ready. Incidentally, ReSnap was itself recently (mid-2017) acquired by Albelli, which in turn changed hands just shortly prior to that, by swapping from the Cimpress to the Gilde portfolio (I reported on that here).
PastBook is taking a similar approach. The Amsterdam-based start-up is growing fast by applying the one-click photobook principle, which, for example, can be produced on a mobile or laptop/desktop device directly from Instagram and Facebook, and it has a presence both in the USA and Europe. To do this the buyer uses an app to select a period, e.g. from September to December 2017, covering their Facebook uploads and the software automatically generates a photobook spanning the relevant dates that the buyer can then order.
Let’s continue with Amazon Prints – as far as online photo print is concerned, you can’t afford to ignore it. After I recently reported on the online colossus’ Prints program, things have happened in its print products portfolio. Obviously it is not a spectacularly grand offering, but the photo products that drive sales are included. And if you consider how the US photo print market leaders have reacted since the launch of Amazon Prints, then one thing is clear – if Amazon gets serious in any sphere of activity, then there is always a perceptible reaction in the market, no matter in which segment.
As I said before, Amazon Prints should not be underestimated. The online colossus already knows how to position itself – Amazon in fact enters lucrative segments quicker than many other market players and takes market share off them. For example, the “Merch by Amazon” program has been online since 2015 and despite stiff competition from incumbents in the USA even back then, has enjoyed plenty of popularity in the T-shirt print segment. So popular in fact that a European launch is likely to follow this or next year. So for the Prints program this means that if the learning effects and market penetration in the USA are substantial enough, the world’s most powerful eCommerce business will also be looking for suitable print infrastructure in Europe. Given so much potential just in terms of the quantity of digital photos that could find their way into the Amazon universe via Prime Photos and the Drive apps, it will take less than two years before this whole shebang arrives in Europe. Amazon has already taken a step in this direction by launching its Custom program on its German website. That’s because this already facilitates access via Amazon – offering several of the benefits familiar to users.
My take: be it apps, more products or simplified ordering procedures – online photo print providers are creating an increasingly more extensive service offering to enable the increasing quantity of photos out there to be used for print purposes. If a print provider reaches out to potential customers in the right places, then what could be more lucrative. So the added value of print is therefore retained. What’s also definite is that creatively turning a stock of digital photos into tangible products must also be feasible and for preference using mobile end devices. The fact that this works is demonstrated both by major players and start-ups alike and they, like MyPostcard for example, incidentally a speaker at next week’s Online Print Symposium, are benefiting from and growing in tandem with the increasing quantity of photos taken using mobile end devices. Of course the “online photo print” segment is even larger than described here. In the next few weeks I will therefore be tackling other growth areas like online-customizable wall décor, high-end quality photo print and the issue of photo merch(andizing). So stay tuned, it’s worth it.