Print APIs: photo products from a print fulfiller – how does that work?


Do you have a great concept but no production resources of your own for photo products? There are other ways of turning creative achievement into sales – by incorporating fulfillment solutions into your own sales channel!

Digital photos are, so to speak, everywhere and total sales of photo prints that you can order online are increasing. In an age when Amazon is also offering photo print services (to date only in the US market), entry into this business still needs to be carefully thought through. But what is clear is that the emotional value of photos, particularly in printed form, is not declining but indeed on the rise. So anybody, who has creative ideas and/or an online store that performing well and wants to add photo products to their portfolio, has several options available. The most expensive of these options involves acquiring your own production facilities. Are there alternatives to owned production? Yes – via programming interfaces with platform providers. I have taken a closer look at two of these.

A major player from Germany that offers store operators linkage to a large portfolio of personalizable photo products is the Cologne-based photos-on-canvas specialist, Picanova. Four production sites provide almost worldwide coverage in terms of printing and shipping to more than 170 countries without the producer having to be named. This white-label solution enables customers to decide themselves which products they want to incorporate and sell. Here too products are printed on demand and there are no minimum order quantities, which is anyhow a personalizable print product convention now.

Other Picanova photo products besides the top-selling photo canvas can be incorporated via API; source:

The Picanova group and its brands have broad print-on-demand experience – that means API customers can really rely on their fulfilment partner to do a professional job. There are no registration or monthly costs to make use of the offering, including service. How high the charges for individual orders are is judged on an item-by-item basis. Customers linked in via API can, for example, utilize the Picanova portfolio’s top-selling photo canvas measuring 20 x 20 cm starting at a basic cost of 4.60 Euros excluding shipping, which means they retain some leeway to set their own margins in relation to the price of the product sold via the platform (28.90 Euros). Obviously the major player earns a cut of every item sold – but anybody generating sufficient sales through their own store does not have to worry at all about production or logistics.

“Despite the large number of providers, the photo print segment will continue to be lucrative – provided you have the right concept. There are sound alternatives for anybody, who doesn’t want to or can’t produce themselves but who nevertheless wants to provide printed photo gifts and the like.” – Bernd Zipper takes a somewhat different approach to print fulfillment via API link. The very recent start-up officially launched its platform in the summer of 2014 and is, as far as corporate structure is concerned, on the small side compared to Picanova, having only a low two-digit headcount and no production facilities or logistics function of its own. The company is based in London and has an office in New York, from where its B2B business, including API offering, and its B2C photo business, including dedicated apps, are managed. Its iOS apps include, for example, ZenCam, where customers only have to pay for shipping costs when they place photo orders, the photos per se are free of charge. At around 5.40 Euros – although that includes worldwide delivery – this is not worth every customer’s while… But let’s get back to the core of the company’s offering – print APIs.

App integration and print ordering via; source:

The London-based software specialist provides direct insights into possible integration scenarios in Android and iOS apps along with specific developer tools (SDKs) via its website. This is also what focuses on – applications that enable personalized print products to be offered on mobile devices. Although it’s possible to dock on to WooCommerce or Shopify’s Rent-A-Store service – there is also a Magento solution in the pipeline – the app-based generation of mobile orders is the service being promoted the most. As I mentioned before, they don’t do any printing themselves but maintain a large network and distribute incoming orders to tried and tested print providers.

Canon also believed that photo apps have massive potential. It acquired the London-based start-up in March this year, but is letting it operate under its own flag within the Canon group. By doing so the corporation has no less than scooped a fair amount of know-how. According to its own information, the number of existing store and app linkages has passed the 500 mark and the number of users worldwide is said to be in excess of 100 million. is not revealing any details about integration costs – at least when no user log-in exists –, but basic costs for each product are explicitly listed. Most of the items on their website that I took a look at are produced by fulfillment partners in the UK or the Netherlands. This also yields information about how long shipping takes, which certainly plays a role as far as “potential integrators” are concerned. They of course also want to be able to offer their customers reasonable lead times.

My Take: Print APIs for photo products are basically suitable for artists that want to offer photo items or for existing or future store operators that want to offer their customers a broad portfolio of photo print products. Although proprietary manufacturing means margins are higher, so are the costs of investment too. What’s also practical is that the providers profiled here don’t stipulate minimum sales targets, but conversely API customers are able to make use of proven structures. The idea itself and the marketing approach, with an increasing focus on mobile in future, remain the key to success. That’s why I shall continue to look at other creative print-on-demand ideas here at Something for you to look forward to ?

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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