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View Full Version : Online print lab and marketing: interested ?



Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 07:38
I have been thinking about something and am wondering what others here would think about it.

What if there were a website that you could upload a full-sized print file to (scan or digital capture) and order a true "custom lab" print, light-jet or ink-jet for reasonable prices? By reasonable I mean you could get an 11x14 for $10, a 16x20 for around $14 and a 20x24 for $20. Mounting, matting and framing would also be offered at similar wholesale pricing.

1) Would you be interested in using a service like that and if so, how many prints do you think you would order over a one year period?

Now assume this site also offered as an additional service, a personalized web storefront for your images and automated the order fulfillment for you, including credit-card processing, paypal, etc, using the above printing and framing services. Additionally you could have the option to "opt in" to an online "stock" photo agency where your posted images were offered for sale to commercial buyers needing decorative art (the kind of art that might be purchased in bulk to decorate a large new hotel).

2) Would you use the personalized website feature if it were free?

3) How likely would you be to use the opt-in stock feature IF there were a nominal member fee charged to offset the costs of marketing to commercial art buyers? (say $99/yr)?

Thanks in advance for your input!

Cheers,

Oren Grad
8-Feb-2007, 07:46
a true "custom lab" print, light-jet or ink-jet

May we assume that this means scrupulous attention by the vendor to maintenance of stable profiles, calibrations, etc., so that once you work through your initial trials, you really do know what you're going to get?

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 08:08
May we assume that this means scrupulous attention by the vendor to maintenance of stable profiles, calibrations, etc., so that once you work through your initial trials, you really do know what you're going to get?

That is precisely what I meant by "true custom lab".

Cheers,

Ted Harris
8-Feb-2007, 08:13
Not a bad idea bu tthe pricing is, I suspect off by a good bit. If you want top quality then the prices are too low by a good bit. For example, a quick off-the-top-of-my head tells me that my materials costs alone for an 11x14 or 16x20 including the paper, ink, packaging and shipping materials (NOT the actual shipping) are approaching $10 so add a bit for labor and then add some profit and you are at a minimum of $30 at least I would guess. If you rethink the pricing then I would guess it is doable.

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 08:19
Not a bad idea bu tthe pricing is, I suspect off by a good bit. If you want top quality then the prices are too low by a good bit. For example, a quick off-the-top-of-my head tells me that my materials costs alone for an 11x14 or 16x20 including the paper, ink, packaging and shipping materials (NOT the actual shipping) are approaching $10 so add a bit for labor and then add some profit and you are at a minimum of $30 at least I would guess. If you rethink the pricing then I would guess it is doable.

Thanks Ted: I have already carefully worked out the pricing. Obviously shipping is not included in the above pricing. To be more specific, the prices above are for light-jet. Ink-jet would run a bit more: $12, $22 and $33 for the same size prints on surfaced papers, more for rag or canvas.

For now, I am trying to get feedback on the concept using those prices for the prints themselves. What I want to know, is if folks here would use a service like that at those prices and if so, how much would they use it.

Thanks in advance,

Frank Petronio
8-Feb-2007, 09:03
If it is a business that you would run, then I'd sign up for it and use it as part of my business strategy for sure.

As for the quantity I would use? Probably not that much... 20 prints a year maybe, just for personal use. Maybe more if you proved to be really good and I was doing a show.

But I would like to use it to drop ship prints to clients and also build a stronger stock photo business, especially if your site targeted a few vertical markets.

For instance, if you tied in with a hotel or restaurant chain's interior architecture firm you would give your members a ready market.

And it would be great to send a client or model a nice framed print after the job if wasn't so expensive and time consuming... even for potential clients it would be worth it at those prices.

A couple of points:
Give me a larger percentage of the stock revenue since your online services will be so darn efficient. It should be more efficient -- you don't have the huge technology costs or UI development that Getty/Corbis evolved.

Keep it selective at first, then tier the membership. You need to start out with quality content.

Build it like you did with Omni-blog so it is W3C valid and easy to find via Google.

Put some personality into it, don't make it another bland online company without a human face. Build a community into it as well. Blog a little about customer successes and promote us.

Shared Ink has a pretty good model I think, with user forums, personal human-based attention, great FAQs, premium membership levels for pros, etc. Their front-end could stand a good face lift design and marketing wise however.

Tell us exactly what printer and materials will be used... I don't begrudge you making a healthy margin. Some people will say you're always too expensive but they are never good customers anyway.

Get enough money and talent to build the site properly from the get-go. I am really hesitant to keep trying start-ups that never quite implement things to their promised potential. Let the flakes experiment on someone else.

Good luck!

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 09:06
Hi Frank:

Thanks for the encouraging feedback! Seriously though, can you give me an honest idea of how many prints you might order over a years time? I need this data to assess the model.

Thanks,

Frank Petronio
8-Feb-2007, 09:27
I'd base it on only 20, not 100. $500 per year per member to start. You know, be conservative and make it scalable.

If you could afford to do the start-up carefully, you might cherry-pick and invite 50 really good photographers who might not be your strongest paying customers but they would promote it to all the "guys with camera" who will pay. Same model as ski companies giving deal to the pro skiers so the amateurs buys in.

Get a John Sexton to partner up with and your business is golden. Or go slumming down a notch and invite us ;)

So you need hundreds of members...

Ed Richards
8-Feb-2007, 09:42
My problem with the model is that I need to make prints to see what a fine prints look like. No matter how well I am profiled, a light emitting screen is not a print.

So I have to have a printer to make the prints, so I am already well into the cost cycle, so it makes no sense for me to buy prints unless they are bigger than I can make on my own system.

Thus the service only makes sense for big prints, which become attractive because of the pricing compared to running a big printer. But few will order many big prints, so your pricing has to go up, which means that they become less attractive.

I think there are two critical issues. Frank raised the first - can you become a trusted intermediary for the whole client transaction? I could image using the service as a turnkey to provide prints in response to orders, assuming I ever get an order.:-) Just handling shipping and fixing prints that arrive damaged would be worth a lot.

The second is how many people are printing their own larger prints these days and what size is bigger than say, what 50% of folks can do themselves.

Helen Bach
8-Feb-2007, 10:05
I use ezprints.com for colour prints in sizes larger than I can print myself. Once I had learned how they printed my files, I got very good results. A test print costs next to nothing, and it arrives quickly. They print on FCA at the kind of prices that Jack is talking about, or slightly less. The additional services that Jack is talking about would be an advantage. If you were to offer a similar service for Ilford fibre-based silver prints and high quality B&W inkjet prints, even at moderately higher cost, that would be a great attraction.

I'm really bad at shipping things and, much as I prefer to print my work myself, the service that Jack is suggesting would be very attractive, even for giveaways.

Best,
Helen

Henry Ambrose
8-Feb-2007, 10:20
Jack,

For what its worth, here's what my lab (Chromatics in Nashville, TN) does:

http://chromatics.com/Serv-PhotoPrints.htm

You can see pricing by scrolling down.

I can FileFlow them a file pretty easy and its ready in short order. Their pricing is somewhat higher than what you are writing about but not much. Their profiles are dead on. I get what I want pretty much first try. But I also don't use them so much since I have a 24" printer.

I did just do a couple of big 40"x40" prints for a client to hang in a public building. They were sent on Tuesday then printed and delivered by courier on Thursday while I was out of town. None of this was real cheap, but the service was available to me.

I like your idea and I think it might fly but mostly in places where there's not a strong local lab. I wonder how many people are under-served these days with labs bonking out left and right? I suspect there's quite a few. Which may be what got you thinking this way, I dunno.

QT Luong
8-Feb-2007, 10:26
Personally, I prefer to print myself so that I can inspect, reprint immediatly several times if necessary, and sign the print, but since you asked, could you explain what would the differences be between your proposed service and, let say pictopia.com (which is only one of the companies in the online-printing space) ?

As for Frank's comment, I am not sure why your technology costs would be low if you build a world-class site.

Frank Petronio
8-Feb-2007, 12:57
Well not "low" but since expected behaviours have already been well figured out on the big stock websites, there is a model to work from.

From my experience most of the website development time and money gets spent on the decisions, mistakes, and revisions. If you can steal the proven models from Getty and write a really defined specification of work, then you can get very competitive bids.

And stealing from Getty? Please, go for it ;)

Henry Ambrose
8-Feb-2007, 13:54
OK just to be devil's advocate:

http://tinyurl.com/2gb6fm

Why would folks looking for cheap art come to JacksPictureJoint.com?

Art.com - it already exists, much to the dismay of anyone who thinks they're gonna sell posters.

QT Luong
8-Feb-2007, 14:12
The proven models from Getty work well only for a corporation with Getty's size and budget. If a small company tries to emulate the core of them, I very doubt they would be successful. For instance, Getty doesn't do SEO, as they have other means to reach creatives. Try to do the same with a budget of "just" a few millions, and see if this works.

Greg Lockrey
8-Feb-2007, 14:55
Jack, I am speaking from the viewpoint of being in the custom printing business already. Making prints that satisfy yourself (and I know your standards are very high) is a whole different ballgame when you have to deal with a client's idea of what they think they are looking for. When doing custom printing, I find that my clients like to be part of the process until they are comfortable that I get their view. You are going to look at a lot of images that need fixing, but it's theirs. Now, admittedly I have a cheap website that has links to send full size files to me to be printed and after five years plus on the web, I can count on one hand the number of clients that bothered to use the feature. Large files take a long time to send. Another issue is what they see on their monitor isn't necessarily going to match yours....that alone is a problem. Getting into custom printing is very rewarding and you get to meet a lot of neat people, but I wouldn't quit your day job if the plan is web based. JMHO

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 16:31
Thank you all for your responses so far. It is clear I need to clarify a few things though :)

1) Let me be perfectly clear, I am *NOT* going to be doing the printing myself! We have already contracted with existing custom labs (yes, ones you've heard of) to fulfill the print orders, ditto custom framing shops. Companies like Chromatics give us better pricing due to the net volume we supply, that's how we get good prices to our members.

2) I reiterate, we are offering a total, turn-key, e-commerce enabled website for our members. This is in addition to the order fulfillment feature and in addition to marketing their work to potential COMMERCIAL art buyers. The fact this is all integrated into a one-stop shop for the artist is what makes it somewhat unique.

3) There are two distinct types of art sales -- collectible and decorative. The artist selling collectible art is going to want to personally inspect and hand-sign each and every print they sell, whereas decorative art may be sold without that level of artist interaction, though it certainly can be. If you sell collectible art, you still might want to use our printing services and possibly mounting and matting services, but it is unlikely you would use our framing partners since you would want to inspect and sign the print before it was framed and delivered. The commercial buyers we are promoting artist's work to might want 50 copies of a single image to be part of the collective body of work that decorates say a new 1000-room hotel in Las Vegas. This type of work is usually sold at lower prices than collectible art, usually is not limited to a specific edition and it is unlikely an artist would feel the need to touch every piece before cashing the check. Obviously, an Artist may sell both types of work and our system would support both or either to varying dgrees.

4) Lastly, our fulfillment services might be useful even if you have an Epson 9800 sitting next to your desk. For example, I have a friend who has been asked to produce 25 images of specific size for a gallery show. He has an Epson large format printer, but is outsourcing this particular print job due to personal time constraints.

Hope all this clarifies,

Edwin Beckenbach
8-Feb-2007, 18:35
One thing I don't get...are you going to market the work of every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to throw together a web gallery a get a few prints made? If the marketing angle is the hook, what do you do when you get flooded with unmarketable products by clients with unrealistic expectations? Photographers often have an overvalued impression of their own work. I know I do :)

It just seems that you would want to throw a wide net for the printing end of things but on the other hand be very discriminating for commercial marketing purposes.

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 19:31
are you going to market the work of every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to throw together a web gallery a get a few prints made?

The simple answer is the work will be part of the searchable database for buyers based on key words the artist attaches to the images. Ironically, in decorative art sales, the key buying factors are often only a very general subject matter (ie; ocean, flowers, etc) but something with specific color tones (ie; pastel blue, red-orange or bright yellow).

Greg Lockrey
8-Feb-2007, 19:43
This sounds very similar to what "American Frame" has at their website.

Jack Flesher
8-Feb-2007, 20:02
This sounds very similar to what "American Frame" has at their website.

I must have the wrong site... I Googled "American Frame" and got framing services. Do they offer turn-key website with storefront? Costs? A link???

Greg Lockrey
8-Feb-2007, 20:30
http://www.americanframe.com/ You have to get into "the Art Gallery". They offer a gamut of services along with the framing.

Ed K.
8-Feb-2007, 23:53
You know, A&I was trying to go down about the same plan as you mention for a few years. Apparently, the new owners found a more home-user type approach worth trying for a while - a sort of online print kiosk on the low end. With all the volume they do, and good prices at that, one would think they could afford to support the high-end online more. There must be a reason. They seem to have trouble because they don't have the web part right last I checked. And Westcoast touts a custom approach to online work too, complete with their featured printmakers.

Marketing sounds very interesting, but isn't that a different business altogether? For publication sales, it's usually electronic, no? But you'll be part print house. Selling publication / stock is a bit different animal than fine art prints isn't it?

Two cents - try to specialize a little and pick one direction more. At least then you can size up your competition better and position yourself. What was said about the overwhelming number of photogs and their own opinions of their work makes sense. Can your marketing, when diluted by the lab relations and headaches, still better serve a larger volume than other stock houses and reps?

Another issue is that so many photographers have had to branch out into becoming mini-marketing firms with direct-to-client relationships and one-stop shops. Others have side scanning and printing businesses and/or rent their studios out. And still more do "web design" and "e-commerce". It's a jungle out there, and everyone is like water filling in the nooks. You'll have to really focus your pitch and have the means for some real follow through.

I'm not saying that you can't build a better mouse trap, however there are some mighty big, expensive mousetraps out there that are struggling to compete. I hope that your effort works out - if it does, I'll be checking you out! You do sound determined - so really, best of luck and success!

Frank Petronio
9-Feb-2007, 00:00
Not to splash cold water, but my friend Walter has tried this:

http://www.nancyscans.net/photoisart/Galleries/MainPage.asp

http://www.nancyscans.net/index.html

And he says he hasn't sold much... like a goosegg.

Greg Lockrey
9-Feb-2007, 00:37
As many of you already may know, my business is producing fine art reproductions for many artists and illustrators and the display industry. I get a lot of newbies that think they will take the art world by storm. Generally it takes them a couple of years to realize that it's tougher than they thought. I churn about six newbies a year. Several of my clients have been in the business for 20-30 years working in design departments for the likes of Owens Corning, Owens Illinois and General Motors. Some have their own websites ebay stores and all sell their wares at art shows. To my knowledge none are making money off the net. Some are breaking even at ebay, but barely. Only those who do the shows in person or go door to door to dealers are making a living. It's difficult to sell your art when a customer sees it in person, next to impossible when your looking at it on a 15" screen. My 2c.

Here are examples of my more successful clients:

http://www.goettner.com/bio.htm

http://www.stevekinseyministries.com/

http://calandrastudio.com/

They all do well, but not on the net.

bob carnie
9-Feb-2007, 06:56
Like Greg
I am in the custom printing business as well, we have a site and do recieve work from all points.
We would not consider lowering our prices as we consider them fair for our workflow methods and commitment to satisfying our clients needs.
Lunchbag let down is the most common element of long distance printing. I prefer knowing who my client is , getting to know their requirements and testing back and forth with them over a period of time.

Jack I would consider a simple fact that is just around the corner before you make any decision .

Wallmart, Loblaws*grocery store* Costco , every small mini lab *worldwide* have on site a Fuji Frontier. The print size is up to 12x18 and the prices are determined by the pound and not by the print size.
All the major manufacturers are/have developed a big boy version of these machines. Durst Theta for example. 30inch to 50 inch roll by whatever length , this machine is front workingspace,LED exposing unit, processor, and print trimming unit in one single package that is not much larger than the Fuji Fronteir platforms.
It is only a matter of time*weeks - year* before you start seeing them pop into the market place in suprising locations.
They will also consider the price per pound attitude and you will be able to get your 30x40s for very low prices.* I would suggest much lower than what you may be considering*
This is already happening here in Toronto where competing labs with chromras and lightjets are offering great reductions for unmanaged files where you pay a per foot price. You are responsible for managing your files and in a perfect world it makes total sense . I have seen the results of this workflow of extremely compentant photostudios, and the work is really not to bad, a few points off in colour and density but *hey who cares about that.*
We have a lambda onsite and have decided not to go this route for clients finished prints. We will do this only for proofing purposes on shows we are commisioned to print.
I think you have to look to the local grocery store to analyse your competition for a low price internet printing service.
As Greg points out that the percetage of work done this way is small compared to client to printer relationships.
Face to Face discussion with clients is always the best route for custom work.

Another small factor as I am sure Greg will attest to. Our whole client base are in very different skill levels of the digital workflow capabilities. Some are not aware how to turn on the computer to those who do not need a printer for any manipulations.*dodge/burn/contrast/colourbalance/colouraccention.
In all cases I am needed at some point. whether it is to take a raw file and completely manage it to final print or just look at the test print and make a small tweek if needed.
Once you start down this printing for others game you will find this factor quite challanging.
I too agree that getting into custom printing for others is extremely rewarding, but I am not sure about a web based fufillment plan.














Jack, I am speaking from the viewpoint of being in the custom printing business already. Making prints that satisfy yourself (and I know your standards are very high) is a whole different ballgame when you have to deal with a client's idea of what they think they are looking for. When doing custom printing, I find that my clients like to be part of the process until they are comfortable that I get their view. You are going to look at a lot of images that need fixing, but it's theirs. Now, admittedly I have a cheap website that has links to send full size files to me to be printed and after five years plus on the web, I can count on one hand the number of clients that bothered to use the feature. Large files take a long time to send. Another issue is what they see on their monitor isn't necessarily going to match yours....that alone is a problem. Getting into custom printing is very rewarding and you get to meet a lot of neat people, but I wouldn't quit your day job if the plan is web based. JMHO

QT Luong
9-Feb-2007, 10:21
Not to splash cold water, but my friend Walter has tried this:

http://www.nancyscans.net/photoisart/Galleries/MainPage.asp

http://www.nancyscans.net/index.html

And he says he hasn't sold much... like a goosegg.

The problem with all those offerings is that the company makes money by charging the photographer a fee upfront, regardless of whether prints are sold or not. The incentive to market the photographers effectively (an expensive proposition) is quite thin, to say the least.