September 2 2012
by Benny Evangelista
With more than 300 million images uploaded each day, Facebook has become the world's repository of digital photos. While sharing photos online is fine with most people, two new Facebook apps that debuted last week offer members of the social network a way to do more with their digital images in an old-school way - by printing them out. One is SocialPics, from Hewlett-Packard's online photo service Snapfish. The app sorts through Facebook photos to create a printed 20-page book reminiscent of a high school yearbook.
Meanwhile, drugstore chain Walgreens introduced an app that transmits a Facebook member's favorite or most popular photo - complete with location of the shot, who's in the photo and comments posted by friends - for printing at the retailer's nearest outlet. "We see a lot of potential in this new market," said Rich Lesperance, director of marketing for Walgreens' e-commerce division. "It's not the old printing business of our parents. It's the new mobile and social photo business." Back when consumers used analog cameras to capture images on rolls of film, the only way to share photos was to develop the film and print snapshots. That gave retailers like Walgreens a thriving film developing and printing business. Digital photography has disrupted that business, although it has led to more photos being taken - there are estimates that as many photos are snapped in two minutes now than there were during the entire 19th century. And instead of printing, it's vastly more efficient to shoot a photo with a smartphone and upload it to an online photo service. In fact, sharing photos digitally has become one of the prime uses of Facebook, which is paying more than $700 million to buy popular mobile photo sharing app Instagram. According to the research firm InfoTrends, 99 million people in the United States shared camera phone photos on social networks last year, a number that should climb to 122 million by 2016. There are already various ways to print photos directly from Facebook. One was using Kodak's Picture Kiosk, installed in retailers like Target. However, that wasn't enough to save the financially ailing Eastman Kodak, which is selling the kiosks as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy. But both Snapfish and Walgreens believe there's still a demand for physical copies of favorite photos to help consumers organize their collections.
"There's so much content, but what people aren't good at doing is preserving memories," Lesperance said. "You share a moment in time and that moment is then lost. We looked at how we can create some permanence." Most photos don't need to be printed. But the Photo by Walgreens app includes a feature called "PrintWorthy," which suggests photos based on variables such as birthdays, anniversaries or number of comments, tags and likes. For $2.99 per print, the app prepares a 5-by-7-inch photo, including comments and likes posted by friends, and a caption describing when and where it was taken. Snapfish and other companies have long offered customizable photo books - printed scrapbooks that users create online from digital pictures. Snapfish cites research from InfoTrends that predicts the photo book market will increase from $588.1 million in 2010 to $1.2 billion by 2015.
The new SocialPics app, developed by Snapfish and Facebook, creates a photo book version of the social network's Timeline profiles. "We're trying to work with what the customers are doing already," said Stephen Favrot, Snapfish's director of online marketing. The app searches a Timeline as far back as possible. It can also search a narrower period, but that may not yield enough material to fill out a 20-page book - $19.95 for a soft cover, $28.99 for hardcover - without duplications. The app then generates a bound compendium of a member's Facebook life, with top photos, profile pictures of friends and status updates. The app allows some editing of photos and comments. But each launch of the app generates a slightly different look that can't be saved because it is designed to be used by people "who can't spend 35 or 40 minutes working on a photo book," Favrot said. Future versions will include the ability to narrow selections to events, such as weddings and vacations. Memolane is another online service that creates a digital scrapbook from social network posts. The San Francisco startup behind the app is also looking at adding a printed option, but for now is sticking with sharing digital scrapbooks on websites and blogs.
"We want to perfect what we're doing online first," said Kathryn Stern, marketing and community manager.