This photo product platform can open up lucrative opportunities in the digital market, says Barney Cox
Digital technology has transformed photography more than print. Once, unless you used Polaroid, you had to get your pictures developed before you could see the results, which took time and money. But today, digital photography provides an instant pixels fix. Facebook and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, along with email and picture messaging, mean digital photos are now ubiquitous.
"There has been a total shift to digital so that there's no need to print photos," says Taopix chief executive James Gray. "But people don't want to be 100% digital."
The desire to have something tangible to hold memories on has created a market, combining digital photography with digital print, to produce bespoke photo products, including photobooks and calendars.
Taopix isn't the only firm with an eye on the market. Big players such as Canon, Fuji, HP, Kodak and Xerox are also promoting it as a lucrative application for digital print. In fact, in the UK, Taopix works with both Canon and HP for the photo market. For printers used to a business-to-business market, working with consumers may seem a daunting prospect, but it's only one of three markets that Taopix targets.
"We've identified three potential markets," says Gray. "Professional, which is largely weddings; educational yearbooks; and other photo products."
The first market is potentially very lucrative, with Gray citing some customers charging in excess of £300 trade price for a wedding photobook. He also notes that yearbooks are becoming more popular in the UK too.
It's that third group that involves the general public, and Gray claims there are different approaches to selling these type of photo products. "You can base the products on an existing brand or establish a new brand," he says.
"The advantage of setting up a new brand is that all the revenue is yours, but the disadvantage is the time, effort and expense needed to build a brand."
For that reason, the most likely route to the consumer market is in partnership with an organisation that has a relationship with the public already. "If you don't have consumer expertise, you can rebrand Taopix to suit an online retail partner," he adds. "You provide them with additional revenue and you don't have to invest a lot in sales and marketing."
Gray describes Taopix's eponymous product as a platform. It consists of three modules: a client for creating photo products; an e-commerce module for job submission and ordering; and a production management tool.
To work with multiple brands, this platform is designed to be easily customisable. The printer can do it themselves using simple drag-and-drop tools and there's no need for any coding skills or reliance on the software supplier making any changes, which keeps down deployment costs and complexity.
The client is a desktop application that works offline, which enables users to work on their products without having to have an internet connection. Gray acknowledges that there are strengths to the alternative approach of designing centrally on the website, but cites common disadvantages, especially for power users and at times of high demand.
"It can be a big headache with the need for a huge IT infrastructure," he says. "It may work with 10 clients online, but if you get hundreds, it becomes a huge problem, and managing the IT needs is beyond the skills of most printers."
Hosting is up to the customer - Taopix does offer it if required, but reliable hosting can be bought so cheaply that most clients choose their own hosting provider.
The way the Taopix client works is said to give the best of both worlds, with any updates being automatically downloaded, so users always have the latest templates and features. The client is suitable for Mac and PC. "Many competitors only offer PC," says Gray. "That looks great when you focus on the number of PCs sold, but if you move into creative markets, like photography, it's a different picture - you need both."
The client includes a flight-check to warn users if they're using a low-resolution picture or enlarging an image beyond a reasonable size. It's also possible for the printer to configure what tools the client has - a basic consumer interface could have limited functionality, while one intended for professional photographers could offer more control. To make the software more simple, the client includes the Taopix Genie wizard to guide users through the process, as well as the Taopix Assistant - an animated help system.
For the layout, there is an Autoflow tool and full support for editing any page, as well as tools such as a usage indicator to prevent pictures being used more than once. A text editor allows text to be added and it is also possible to set a range of backgrounds and marks, which the user can create for themselves. Software checks the upload time of a finished product, and if it's deemed too long, the file can be sent in on a disk. Files are flattened and sent as separate pages, typically of about 1-1.5MB per page. By separating the files into pages, it's easier to resume uploading should any problems occur.
Production files can be created as JPEGs and TIFFs, as well as PDFs. Although commercial printers are comfortable with PDF files, some photo lab equipment only supports the raster files. Taopix uses encryption so that the files customers create can only be decrypted for printing by the firm that supplied that creator, therefore ensuring client lock-in.
At the printer's site, the production module provides control and visibility of the process. The status of all jobs is shown, whether they are waiting for files ready to download, downloaded and ready to decrypt, processed, printed, in post-press or shipped.
It is possible to automate the downloading, decrypting and processing so you only need to manage ready-to-print files. It's also an option to manage jobs by attributes, such as paper stock or production device, and the job tickets can also include details of different production methods within the same job, for instance splitting off personalised covers for production on a wide-format inkjet while a digital press produces the book block. The production file includes a printed job ticket with a barcode to track work through the factory.
Taopix costs £22,000 for the software, which includes some transaction charges. In the second year, support costs £4,000 including all upgrades and 4,000 jobs. Over that limit, transaction charges are a flat £1 per job, regardless of the value of the job and the number of books or copies.
For other, more simple products, such as greetings cards where the £1 flat fee is too large, there is a single-sheet model that charges 5p per page, or per copy, up to a maximum transaction value of £1.
To date, Taopix has 75 customers around the world, ranging from small printers up to photo product specialists running multiple presses flat out. By the end of the year, it plans to take its install base to 100. And, as its users get bigger and their applications more complicated, the software is growing. A future version will support multisite working, allowing jobs to be routed to the nearest production site, or the one with the most appropriate production facilities.
Description digital photo product platform with three modules: creator; e-commerce/shopping basket; production
Platform Mac and PC
Online or offline offline with automatically updated software
Hosting at printer's chosen sitePrice £22,000
Ongoing charges subsequent support £4,000 per year, transaction cost £1 per job or 5p per sheet up to a maximum of £1
Contact Transeo Media 0845 017 8660 www.taopix.com
Bytes Document Solutions Infigo
Bytes launched Infigo Retail this summer, extending its web-to-print products to include consumer products such as calendars, greetings cards and photobooks. Transactions are handled by Sage Pay and the site supports multiple sites and currencies.
Price £9,800 for the licence fee, monthly hosting and transactions £175 per month (includes first 200 jobs), additional jobs 50p each
Contact Bytes Documents Solutions 020 8786 1500 www.bytes.co.uk
Digilabs is a mature product, having been around since 2001. My Photo Books and My Photo Calendars & Cards client software upload finished files by FTP to the printer's server. There is no website to construct and maintain, nor any transaction charges - it works using an upfront software fee and maintenance contract after the first year of 25% of original price. A powerful calendar tool includes a library of national and religious holidays and can hold multiple events on a single date.
Price low-volume printers £8,000 high-volume presses £17,500
Contact Positive Focus 03330 881 801 www.positivefocus.co.uk
Imaxel Photo Suite
Xerox's photo product offering is provided by Spanish firm Imaxel with the option of a walk-up kiosk in addition to desktop and online product creation. The desktop and online tools are closest to Taopix, while a production module integrates with all three front-ends. Two hundred templates are supplied for a range of products and it is possible to create your own templates using InDesign for uploading into the system. The software can be integrated with 12 payment partners for transaction processing.
Contact Xerox 0870 873 4519 www.xerox.com
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