Mobile Apps: A Blue Ocean for Photo Merchandise

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Apr 27, 2012

InfoTrends is now tracking the growing number of apps that support the creation, ordering, printing, and shipment of photo merchandise products. While it is still an early market, a perfect storm is brewing that will lead to rapid growth of the market for these apps. The combination of an increase in the number of consumers who use their smartphones as their primary camera, with the growing number of apps that allow consumers to creatively interact with their images, and with backend API’s that facilitate order, printing, and shipment of items created within the app, is creating revenue opportunities from photo merchandise products.

To date, we’ve identified approximately thirty apps that allow consumers the ability to print simple photo merchandise items (posters and cards primarily). InfoTrends anticipates this number will increase rapidly in the coming year, a view that was supported in a recent conversation with Tom Gallard, CEO of Pwinty. Pwinty is a UK based company that has developed an API that provides app developers with a turnkey solution for the ordering, printing, and shipment of printed products that are created within an app. Gallard highlighted that Pwinty is currently working with about 40 developers that are creating apps which will take advantage of their API.

The process of identifying apps which support the printing of photo products has resulted in some initial findings. The first is that so far, we have only come across two companies that provide backend services focus entirely on supporting the app developer. These companies are Pwinty and Sincerely Ship. The receipt and routing of orders present software development challenges, which are compounded when building out a photo merchandise print workflow, as in the case of Pwinty. Gallard explains “We quickly found that app developers wanted to have control over their brand. Developers wanted the product to look like it was shipped directly from their brand. This meant offering developers  features such as branded invoices and packaging.”

The second finding was that these apps are found in a wide range of categories. Categories ranged from Photo & Video, to Travel, and even Lifestyle. The diversity of categories in which these apps can be found in supports our belief that apps have the potential to create new opportunities within niche markets. Cartolina Postale, for example, is an app developed by Cartolina Cards, which sits within the Lifestyle category. Halftone, an app developed by Juicy Bit Software, which allows users to apply comic book effects to their photos, sits within the Photo & Video category. Postcards by Lonely Planet, an app developed by the travel oriented company Lonely Planet, sits within the Travel category.

Each of these apps, it could be argued is targeting a unique niche market demographic. Cartolina Postale which in early April, according to, was ranked 302 in Overall app downloads leverages content and designs from Cartolina Cards. The look and feel of the designs is unique to Cartolina Postale and is in stark contrast to the designs of Halftone, which in April was ranked 107 in the Photo category. In contrast, Postcards by Lonely Planet, which in April did not have a ranked position, offers a range of professional travel scenes that the user can send as a postcard or they can send their own images as a postcard. The brand and the content of each app is designed to appeal to different niche demographics who may have an interested in creating, ordering, and sending photo postcards.

Figure 1: Cartolina Postcards, Halftone,
and Postcards by Lonely Planet screen shots

The third finding was that apps could be broadly grouped into three main categories: Apps that provide content for users, apps that only provide templates for user generated content, and apps that provide both content and templates. The apps that we found that were ranked the highest had one thing in common. They all provided rich content and many had built in tools that allowed users to creatively modify their own images directly within the app.

App developers, retailers, and service providers need to be exploring opportunities to drive the creation of photo merchandise through mobile apps. Content rich apps should be looking to monetize the content by providing users with the option to create / order photo merchandise. App developers need to THINK PRINT as they develop the functionality of their apps. Retailers and service providers should be pursuing app and API developers that have access to rich content.

As apps continue to reach niche markets, the opportunity for developers, retailers, and service providers to capture revenue opportunities through app driven purchases will grow. Early adopters in this space will reap the rewards of the first in a competitor free market.

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