By Cassandra Balentine
Chatbooks leverages the power of social media and the latest digital print technology to ensure social photos make it to printed form. A smartphone application (app) connects to users’ social media accounts and photo libraries to quickly and easily layout a photobook. The designed photobook is seamlessly sent to a professional print provider right from the app. The process can be done entirely on the user’s smartphone automatically in minutes, and physical, digitally printed books are mailed to the user for a nominal fee within a couple of weeks.
The primary product is a 6×6 inch, 60-page photobook that features the images, date, and location of photos shared to the social media site of choice—most popularly, Instagram. While many of its users are signed up for a subscription service that automatically creates a book once the user has the appropriate amount of shared images. It also offers custom books, which are created by the user on demand.
Based out of Provo, UT, Chatbooks printed its first book in 2014. The concept of the app stemmed from a social media website idea by the founders that pivoted direction after they realized the need for consumers to get photos out of the cloud and into physically printed books.
Chatbooks started utilizing an API with the popular mobile app, Instagram. Today the company says this is still its primary outlet, but it has expanded to integrate with Facebook as well as directly to smartphones. Once a user signs up and connects their account, the app automatically creates a book, enabling users to easily accept photos, or take a few minutes to edit and perfect it.
Dan Jimenez, COO/CFO, Chatbooks, says the company was founded based on the realization that people were documenting their lives online. Consumers are taking more photos than ever before, but they stopped printing them because it became difficult and expensive. He suggests that most people have created about one and a half photobooks in their lifetime, which is a frustrating and costly process. “We felt that there is no reason why it can’t be easier. There are endless possibilities to make creating a photobook both super easy and affordable.”
This product would not be possible without the flexibility of digital print. The books are sized to 6×6 inches. The size is ideal because it plays into the affordability and quality of the books. The size was chosen based on the presses’ sheet size to maximize printing efficiency.
It also happens that the book’s standard size fits a four-inch photo with room to include the location, date, and caption within the layout. Since one downfall of social media is the size restriction on posted photos, the four-inch size works well with the quality level of a photo coming off of one of these sites.
To keep the costs of the books low—a typical Chatbook is $8 including free standard shipping—print costs must also be kept to a minimum.
Chatbooks handles the software prior to print, but actual production is done through partner printers that utilize HP Indigo equipment.
As the company continues to grow, so does its printer network. At the beginning, a local print provider handled the printing for Chatbooks. “When the company started, one of the founders had a good friend running a print shop down the road. They worked together to develop the final product. We worked with them for the first two years and realized we needed more capacity,” says Jimenez.
The company filled orders for 500,000 books in the first year, but in 18 months it was one million. At over two years old, they have sold over two million books. “Pace is picking up so we’ve had to improve our supply chain along the way,” he shares.
Today they have a network of three printer providers.
Chatbooks continuously sends orders to its print partners. They generate print-ready PDFs that are passed over to an API with a logic that decides what files are sent to which printer. Once the files are sent, the print providers download them and process the books however is most efficient for them. Typically the orders are batch processed.
Jimenez estimates that Chatbooks generally send out several thousand books per day to be printed. He says they do experience a seasonal bump, but he explains that it’s not as dramatic as competing photobooks because their model is dedicated more to “printing the everyday.” He notes that they actually tend to see a bump in January. “Since it’s automatically connected, we’ll print a lot of photos the days after the holidays, not before.”
Chatbooks is driven by its easy-to-use consumer facing app, which includes a plug in for easy access to photos and automatic layout software. The app was developed in house by the company.
It targets any consumer that frequently uploads and shares photos on popular social media sites, but its primary demographic includes mothers. About two thirds of its customers are millennial moms, followed by Gen X moms. Together these groups make up about 90 percent of the site’s overall business.
To serve this demographic, the tech company is unique in that two thirds of its employees are also women. “We have 85 employees, and most of them are women. This is not typical for a tech company,” points out Jimenez.
Chatbooks has a few hundred thousand subscribers, which follow a pay-per use model rather than a monthly fee. “A typical customer gets one every two to three months,” estimates Jimenez.
Custom books are uploaded by the customer, but the layout is the same. Hard and softcover books are available for both custom and subscription orders.
The company also uses archival paper to ensure prints will last.
The Modern Print
The world of photography has certainly undergone a technological and cultural shift in the past decade.
“It used to be, up until about 1999 when digital came on the scene, if you wanted to enjoy a photo you had to print it,” points out Jimenez.
While the amount of photos taken and shared are exponentially greater seemingly each day, there is something to be said for a tangible print—just ask any Gen-Xer’s grandmother.
Innovative companies like Chatbooks strive to take the pain out of the printing process, offering consumers an easy and affordable way to physically produce a copy of an image that was good enough to share—but maybe destined to be lost and forgotten within a few minutes.
The technology is there, and the latest digital printing presses provide the quality and pricing needed to make these innovations a reality for all. dps
Jan2017, DPS Magazine