For years, professional photography labs have supported photographers with a range of standard and specialized photoimaging services. But these days, labs are offering new photo gifts to suit all budgets, tastes, and occasions-from mugs and key chains to crystal photo stands and canvas gallery wraps to flush-mounted albums and press-printed cards and books. What's behind this burst of photo energy? What factors are driving product innovation? Which photo gifts are becoming most popular with photographers and their customers? Which ones will be in most demand this holiday season? Studio Photography asked a cross-section of pro lab execs for their perspectives on this booming industry segment. Here's what we learned. . .
Press-Printed Products Rule
The product category that's generating the most buzz is press-printed products. Explains Michele Nelson, Director of Sales and Marketing at White House Custom Colour (www.whcc.com), "In the past, the extent of our service was to provide photographic prints and finishing. With the purchase of several HP Indigo Printing Presses, we're now able to provide clients with small-run press products very efficiently and at a low cost. By offering greeting cards, postcards, business cards, bookmarks, and stickers in quantities as small as 25, photographers can add customized photo gifts to each of their orders. For example, a family portrait may now be ordered as a 30"x40" photo print, press-printed greeting cards, and gift tags, which may include the photographer's contact information."
Todd Coleman, President of Miller's/Mpix (www.Millerslab.com), also reports a rise in popularity of press-printed photo gifts. "Our core products-photographic prints produced on silver-halide photographic paper-remain in high demand, while press-printed products, including hard and soft cover books, continue to gain in popularity. For the upcoming busy season, we expect our four Kodak NexPress systems will be running 24 hours a day. The press offerings give our customers the opportunity to sell unique products that are also ideal for studio promotion, especially greeting cards. We think the press-printed products could take on a life of their own, eventually rivaling the popularity of silver-halide prints."
Larry Abitbol, President of Bay Photo (www.bayphoto.com), agrees that we're seeing great interest in press-printed cards, but thinks their popularity is not necessarily at the expense of conventional cards. Explains Abitbol, "Photographers seem to be sending press-printed cards and regular cards. We've added specialty papers for press-printed products as well as our Pacific Album, with two-day delivery for a full wedding album. The momentum for end users' need of images seems to be staying strong. The quantity of images being made, as well as the abundance of new things you can do with them, is fueling growth."
Paul Kimball, President and COO of CPQ Professional Imaging (www.cpq.com), thinks there may be another explanation for the large increase in four-color printing jobs. "Much of it has been for promotional products for professional photographers themselves. I suspect we are filling orders that last year went to a local print shop or a larger national outfit. We fill a void well because we know the customer's needs in terms of quality and color," he says. "For the holidays, press-printed photo books will lead in popularity, because they give photographers an additional product to sell their wedding and portrait clients, and because they are great for displaying photographers' artwork. Many portrait photographers are creating books from their travels to Europe, etc., for their own personal use or for the studio's gallery."
While collages.net (www.collages.net) also offers press-printed books and canvas gallery wraps, Deirdre Gillin, Director of Marketing and Product Development, expects increasing popularity in the company's High-End card line during the holiday season.
"With images printed on photographic paper and mounted on fine art paper, these cards provide an elegant way to send holiday wishes and are also easily transformed into keepsakes by framing," she says. "Photographers can customize the back of the cards with their logo and contact information, which turns the cards into marketing pieces."
Adds White House Custom Colour's Nelson, "We introduced pearl paper for press-printed cards and products last January, and it has already become the most requested option for press-printed cards and products because of its unique look and feel."
One-Stop Shop for Photographers
Another trend that has taken hold is pro labs offering products and services that minimize photographers' production time and workload.
Jay Perskie, owner of The Wedding Lab (www.theweddinglab.com), cites the popularity of its Princess Album-a designed 10"x10" Flush Bound Library/Coffee Table album with up to 48 images-for $199. "We have had more calls and new clients coming to our lab because of this album," says Perskie. "These are not peel & stick books, but actual flush-bound board books printed on Fuji Professional Paper. Wedding and event photographers are so strapped with post production and all the other jobs created by a digital workflow. Our design, print, and bind service is succeeding because so many photographers are too busy with other things and are happy to have this task taken off them.
"We are adding another service to help free up more of their time: We will color correct, size, and post weddings online at a great price. All photographers need to do is shoot a job then send or FTP the JPEGS, and their work is done!"
Joel Plotkin, President of efotolab.com (www.efotolab.com), adds, "In addition to our fine-art prints and box mounts, we are expanding our line to include flush-mount style albums. The incredible amount of requests for completed albums reflects photographers' wanting more time to shoot and less time in production. All of our print products can be box mounted-canvas, photo-rag papers, and silver-halide prints. We offer a one-stop shop for their needs."
Adds Collages.net's Gillin, "Our technology enables photographers to offer their clients multiple holiday products-high-end holiday cards, customized press-printed books, high-quality prints, photographic albums, and gallery wraps-while having the convenience of working with a single vendor. We also run a Holiday Re-launch program during October and November, where we re-post all the events a photographer posted during the year, notify site visitors that the website is active again, and remind event guests that photos make great holiday gifts. All these year-end sales produce ‘found money.'"
Quality Add-On Items
CPQ's Kimball has seen a shift in recent months from the "old reliable print and frame" to more novelty items as a way to repackage photographers' images for clients. "There's been a definite rise in transfer and sublimation products, beyond the School and Event segments of the portrait market. Also, our new ceramic photo mugs are among our most popular products."