Electronic cards and books having an impact on print, but it doesn’t need to be that way

David Haueter
Mar 20, 2014

With the rise of smartphones and tablets as well as the popularity of sites like Facebook and Tumblr, we’re becoming more and more a world where our photos are shared electronically. We’ve been seeing for years the impact this has had on the traditional photo print market, but the trend toward electronic viewing may be extending into the market for photo products like cards and books as well.

In our 2013 U.S. Photo Merchandise Survey, 23% of respondents said they had created electronic photo cards (e-cards) in the last year and 17% said they had created electronic photo books (e-books).  Not surprisingly, the percentage of e-card and e-book buyers was highest among the 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 year old age groups, as well as those that said they were “advanced hobbyist” photographers (for example, 39% of advanced hobbyists said they had created e-cards in last year, compared to just 22% of snapshot photographers).

The more critical bit of data that impacts the print market is the fact that 71% of respondents that had made e-cards in the last year said that the e-cards had replaced a printed card. Among e-book makers, 67% said the e-book had replaced a printed book. The 18 to 34 year olds and advanced hobbyist photographers were again the most likely groups to replace a printed card or book with the electronic version.

Expense was the most popular reason that respondents had replaced printed cards and books with electronic versions, with 33% saying they did it because it was “less expensive,” and another 15% saying they did it because there were “no postage costs.” Over 24% also said they “like the electronic card/book options better than the printed options,” which may include the ability to include rich media like videos or audio in the electronic product, which is still uncommon in printed books and cards. This is consistent with research from the same study that showed expense/shipping costs and dissatisfaction with available designs were primary reasons that respondents had never bought printed cards and books.

The real concern for the long-term sustainability of the photo output market is that the younger age groups, from growing up in a world with smartphones and tablets, will become accustomed to electronic viewing and sharing and not print at all. As we have said many times over the past few years, more education needs to take place to make consumers aware of the value of printed products, books in particular. InfoTrends believes it is much more meaningful, for instance, to receive a printed book as a gift than to be sent an electronic e-book. It’s also very likely that photo books will be much more easily accessible in 10-20 years for viewing than an e-book will be.

Besides promoting the intrinsic values of printed products, there are other ways for output vendors to compete with electronic products. One is to sell both products and use them to promote each other. Blurb is one of the best examples out there right now of a vendor that is doing this well, as they sell both electronic and printed books and make it easy to order a printed copy of a book after receiving an e-book. InfoTrends believes there is potential to promote printed book sales with e-books. One option may be to offer a free e-book with discreet ads, but offer the book for sale as a printed book without the ads.

Printed cards and books may also be able to compete more with e-books by incorporating rich media elements within the printed product. The easiest way to do this right now is through QR codes printed within or on the product that can be scanned to link to online video or audio. A few vendors such as CeWe, Shutterfly, and Pholium are doing this now. A better solution may be something along the lines of HP’s Live Photo, which uses augmented reality to play video on top of the Live Photo. At the 2013 Consumer Electronic Imaging Fair held in New Delhi, India, HP also showed a wedding album that was developed with Aurasma augmented reality software (which is part of HP Autonomy) that can play video onto the screen of a scanning device, like a smartphone.

InfoTrends believes that while electronic cards and books have tangible benefits over printed products, printed products also have tangible benefits over electronic products. We also believe the two sides can coexist and be used to benefit each other with the right marketing approach.


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