Here’s an eye-opener: Google ‘photo books’ and see what come up.
First are the Google ‘Sponsored Links’ They are from local premium photo book specialist Momento, then US-based Blurb, then UK-based Photo Box. Only these three businesses considered it worthwhile to spend the money to be top of the Google list.
None of the sponsored links listings down the right hand side feature photo specialists neither, although Canon is pushing its own Photo Pico business here, as is wholesale operation, Albumworks.
In the normal listings, Snapfish comes first followed by Momento (again – obviously doing more than one thing right!) and then a series of mass merchants and commercial printer-based ‘print service providers’. And Apple.
It’s not until we get to the second last listing on the second Google page that a photo retailer, Ted’s Cameras, appears. Camera House makes it to the third page and just under that is Brisbane Fotofast – punching above its weight given it’s a single outlet operation.
Do another Google search for ‘canvas prints’ and there’s a similar pattern: commercial printers, mass merchants, and somewhere on the second page, Ted’s Cameras once again gets a guernsey – just after Allposters.com.au (European-based Art & Allposters International BV), and just before Officeworks.
While it would be fair to generalise that photo retailers have been disappointed in the impact these relatively new categories have made on their businesses, could it be that that the business is actually there – it’s just going to other channels?
‘If you talk to a large number of independent photo stores – photo stores in general – they will say things like photo books are not very successful, that there are not that many being done, that no-one comes into the store and asks for them,’ observed Stueart Meers, Photo Direct.
‘But we’ve met quite few photo books printers from the commercial printer area and when we visit them their printers are busy. And they have three, four and five million dollar printers running!’
‘Commercial printers have suffered in the move from analog to digital as much or maybe even more than the photo industry has,’ said Mr Meers. ‘There were probably more small commercial printers than there were small photo retailers.
‘They are pushing into photo books because they are desperate to find some business.’
– More desperate than the traditional photo retailing channel, it would seem. He feels that they now more or less own the category: ‘Photo books have very much consolidated into that commercial printing arena.
‘The photo retail sector is now picking up when it comes to fast turnaround in-store sort of offers. But in-store it’s very hard to create a custom-covered photo book. Not impossible, but complex compared to sending the order off to a factory somewhere.
‘When it comes to times like the day before Mothers Day, in-store kills it. You can do sensational things. But you probably need to offer both an in-store option and have a relationship with a wholesale fulfilment operation. As a specialist you need to have a broad offer.
Mr Meers advice is for photo specialists to ‘effectively do the same thing [as printers have done] – ask where they can find some new business.
‘It’s not taking mum’s image and turning it into a 4×6 – by all means you need to offer that service – but just like a commercial printer will print your letterhead, it’s really not where the profit is.’
Obviously the notion of handling signage and POS needs for local retailers and other businesses is a classic and profitable tit-for-tat move against commercial printers, but it extends to ‘if it can be turned into hard copy, finding a way to do it.’
While he felt that the multi-million dollar investment printers have put into the photo book market will see them continue as a competitive low-margin channel, canvas printing was a bigger opportunity for photo specialists.
‘The advantage is that 99 percent of the business so far is online. Photo retailers have a real chance to talk and engage with people one-on-one – that’s where bricks and mortar has a massive advantage.
He also noted that photo retailers mindset is centred on printing their customers images, but with stock images having fallen to just a few dollars for single use, there is a big potential market in using someone else’s image to producing a piece of wall art.
Canvas prints also lent themselves to dressing up the shop to create a point of focus.
‘Photo books are a great market,’ he said, ‘but you will need to do a lot of talking to customers.
‘A lot of people still don’t know what it is yet.’