by Cassandra Balentine
Part two of two
Photobooks are a great application for those up to the task of optimizing workflow to ensure profitability. The book-of-one tendency—along with high-end features—make these books complex to produce. The continued development of printing and finishing software, smartphones and applications, and new trends drive this segment forward.
The recent novel coronavirus halted many gatherings that drive the demand for photo merchandise, however it opened up time for individuals in lock down to get to the projects they’ve been putting off—including backlogs of photobooks.
Capitalize on Photobook Trends
Photobook production is a great way to add revenue, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. There are many tips for print providers looking to capitalize on photobook trends. With short runs, it is essential to keep profitability in mind throughout the process.
Bob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing Systems, admits that jumping into the photobook market is a big decision for print providers. “Significant investment is necessary to manage the high volume of orders and customer files, as well as produce a quality product to meet or surpass the expectations set by traditional photo print technology. Print providers interested in getting into photobooks must be prepared to invest in top-of-the-line print and finishing solutions, IT solutions and maintenance, and strict quality control measures,” he comments.
“The formula for not only being competitive but profitable in the photobook space is to bring all of the finishing in house, as the per-order quantity is usually small—although per book profit is very high—and shorter run, hardcover books is the single largest growth sector in books of all kinds,” notes Kent Dalzell, president, FastbindUSA.
Adding value like high-end substrates and metallic embellishments is an attractive way to expand profit margins. “Print providers utilize trends like premium paper finishes and metallic embellishments to their advantage as these features create additional selling aspects. For example, print providers can offer a variety of paper types, gold foiling, and other specialty finishing techniques that can incorporate an additional tactile element to photobooks, adding another personal touch,” says Richard Reamer, senior director, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Consumers have different preferences, so the ability to provide a choice of finishes and stocks is attractive. As more offerings are made, the ability to efficiently run those in production becomes essential. “That is where the ability to use JDF and JMF to fully control the job setup and reporting becomes fundamental to success. We even have a customer who uses JDF to customize the slugline of an individual job so that the bindery people have another quality control check as they finish the job, a simple solution that cuts down on errors,” shares Len Christopher, worldwide NEXFINITY and NexPress product manager, Eastman Kodak Company.
Carlos Martins, solutions manager, saddle stitching and hardcover production, Muller Martini, says print providers can improve their productivity by investing in the latest printing and finishing technologies or embellishments that in turn offer them the ability to charge more per photobook. These enhancements result in high-end quality books, which contain differentiating options like metallic embellishments, foil stamping, headbanding, and layflat capabilities that encourage more double-page spreads.
“Printers around the world have been innovating in truly impressive ways to adapt. For years, we’ve seen incredible strides in print speed, media flexibility, finishing, and color gamut. These versatile, powerful tools have been accumulating—and made more intuitive to use—and now printers are finding new and exciting ways to exercise them, whether that’s introducing photobooks or adding five-color print to deliver more eye-catching color blends, hitting Pantone colors exactly,” says Roger Serrette, Customer Experience Center director, Ricoh USA, Inc.
Quality control is a critical in photobook production because the product is so customized. Flinn shares that thousands of unique orders are produced on a shop floor in any given day, as such tracking and matching of photo pages and covers can be a challenge. “Creating an accurate finished product is critical for controlling costs and garnering repeat business. Reprints create waste and cost both time and money, and consumers expect a high-quality, defect-free product. With the amount of competition in the photobook space, print providers cannot risk garnering a reputation for poor print, binding, or matching and shipping errors. Therefore, an investment in an end-to-end, automated solution is recommended. By utilizing reliable, accurate automation along with efficient scheduling and tracking technology, you can ensure consistent production quality and meet the demands of this fast-paced business.”
One of the ongoing challenges with consumer photography is the quality of the incoming photo, not just the lighting or the composition, but the compression of the images and related file handling. “As smartphone cameras have improved, hopefully these challenges will become less of an issue. The use of embellishments is typically a function of the templates created by the service provider, so for those sites that provide more offerings with these embellishments there is always a desire to create standout memory products. One area that seems to be of value to consumers is special bindery techniques and unique page format sizes,” shares Christopher.
Flinn agrees, noting that continued developments in digital print and digital print finishing—from increased automation to intelligent workflow software to more accurate color controls—consumers and traditional publishers can be confident that they will be receiving a top-quality product.
Work traditionally produced in an offset, a static environment, repeated a million times, with really beautiful deep color, can now print digitally at higher speed, more customized, and on more flexible substrates. “Five-color print delivers a broader color gamut that allows you to produce even more brilliant images. That beautiful, vibrant color mixed with the speed and personalization of digital print is helping meet and exceed customer expectations in a fast-turn world where nearly everyone has an eight-megapixel—or better—camera in their pocket and expects crisp images,” adds Serrette.
Advancements to Consider
Many advancements in digital printing and finishing help pave the way for profitability in the photo sector.
Significant advancements in color inkjet print technology include print/color quality advancements, expanded paper options, and enhancements and embellishments such as spot coating, high gloss or matte finishes, and dimensional coating. “When it comes to binding the product, there has been a drive towards increased automation, cover-to-book block matching, right sized hardcover solutions, and integrations that provide touch-less book production from print to finish,” says Flinn.
Martins agrees, noting that quality has greatly improved in cutsheet and roll-to-roll printing applications. In terms of finishing, it’s all about increased automation that enables finishing a book of one without much human intervention. “Finishing systems must adapt and adjust automatically to the variability common to every print run. Intelligent software systems are also available that feed machines with required production data and provide validation that an accurately finished product has been produced. Because of the intense variability inherent in every photobook job, manual processes such as written job tickets simply do not work,” he notes.
The photobook space is dominated by hardcover products with a few different finishes, Dalzell says photobook with traditional paper and photobook with layflat panoramic digital printed paper and photo albums using a mounted panoramic spread, single, one-sided print mounted to a thick board like substrate are popular. “In the past the hurdle for traditional print shops was making the custom printed cover, but that has become just one more easy finishing process with today’s low cost and fully features case maker models.
A new product from Fastbind presents a way for any print shop with a perfect binder to bind a hardcover book. This capability, once only available to traditional binderies turns any soft cover perfect binder into a hardcover binder. “Now short-run hard covers can be made in just about any print shop. That’s an important step in making custom printed hardcovers profitable for everyone,” adds Dalzell.
Market projects and trajectories across the board are being thrown out of whack due to COVID-19. The outlook for photobooks isn’t bad, considering the reduction of events like weddings and vacations that generate interest in them on a regular basis. This is in part due to the fact that many people are home more, putting together photobooks they haven’t been able to get to for years.
“Even the act of assembling a photobook to send to a printer can be an uplifting experience. Sifting through photos, laughing at the outtakes, picking the ones you want to highlight, deciding how you want to arrange it—all of these are acts of remembrance that can bring joy, just as much as holding the finished product,” says Serette.
Reamer also believes COVID-19 may have had an impact on the popularity of photobooks. “While most people were stuck at home, they took the time to look back at old photos and creatively find ways to preserve them into precious mementos, which inspired many to create photobooks in their spare time.”
Flinn warns that the total effect of COVID isn’t easy to gauge just yet. “I don’t think we will be able to measure the true impact of COVID until we are able to look back, but there are some encouraging signs. As everyone has been spending more time at home, people have been picking up a range of hobbies and projects to pass the time. This could include taking a day to go through old family photos and albums to put together a long-imagined photobook or picking up photography as a hobby and needing a way to display some new photos. With families and friends staying apart, photobooks are also a great project or gift to help people stay connected through their shared memories.
One concern for those in the photobook industry is the unknown. While certain times of year are fairly predictable for a surge—like holidays—the rest of the year activity is often uncertain. “As a consumer product, photobooks are very dependent on trends,” says Martins. “Yet, as a web-based production process, changing trends make it difficult for manufacturers to predict daily run volumes.”
People are sentimental beings, and a photo—in any printed form—is a desirable memento. The prevalence of social media sharing has shifted the market and demand for the printed photo, but the latest in digital printing and finishing, as well as ecommerce and smartphone advancements present many new opportunities that highlight the sanctity of a printed photograph. dps
Read part one of this two-part series, Photo Tools.
Dec2020, DPS Magazine