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Editorial, Nov 22: Photo books need to be a ‘no-brainer’

One of the characteristics of the contemporary imaging industry is that much of the innovation of late seems to be coming from new entrants.

So it was phone company Nokia with the idea of using a massive sensor rather than a zoom lens in smartphones. And US start-up GoPro cornered the market on actioncams while the camera companies stood on the sidelines. The somewhat gimmicky but nonetheless fascinating Lytro selectable focus technology came from somewhere in Silicon Valley. (Though Nokia is now offering a version via app on its top-line smartphones.) Korean challenger Samsung  introduced the first Android camera/device. In days of yore one would have expected Canon or Nikon to be first to market with the world’s first full frame compact, and full frame interchangeable lens compact cameras, rather than Sony.

And now Flickr enters the photo book market with a ‘solution’ which might just be the real start (after many a false one) of photo books as a mass market product. And it’s a real solution, because it responds to the problems people have with photo books. 

The photo book software developers from inside the industry have been knocking themselves out futilely trying to simplify a process which is never going to be simple. Instead of going down this path, Flickr has simply eliminated the complicated bits of the process on behalf of the customer. What they call in Value Proposition marketing theory ‘benefits denied’.

What you get is one picture per page. You decide the sequence of pictures, crop the picture to your satisfaction and decide whether it should be full-bleed or bordered. Choose the cover colour. Choose the number of pages. That’s it. No fussing over layouts, no captioning. No reason to abandon the photo book project and (maybe) come back to it some other time. No frustration in finding your way around what is essentially something a professional graphic designer would be more at home with. It’s a no-brainer.

If Flickr has success with this new service, it should have a a positive impact across the board. The photo industry has failed to get photo books ‘across the chasm’ into Mass Marketland. Flickr might just do it for us. I’ve been of the opinion that all photo books really needed to take off was a decent marketing communications budget. Having seen the Flickr approach, I now believe we’ve been offering the mass market the wrong bunch of features, and too many of them. 

Photo retailers need a super-simple but nonetheless high-quality solution a la Flickr on their kiosks and online software, as well as a more complex version for advanced or enthusiast users. But simplicity will open up the mass market, as Flickr has clearly recognised.      


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