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Online Photo Services Face a Changing Market Landscape


Our latest forecast projects that the US online photo services market will experience healthy growth for the foreseeable future. In fact, total revenue from the sale of prints and photo merchandise for delivery by mail will reach nearly $1.5 billion by 2014.

While this is great news for online photo service providers, there are also many changes taking place in this new market as consumers take advantage of technology improvements and new capabilities. It is essential that online photo service providers find ways to incorporate these changes into their strategies to remain relevant and provide the kind of experience today’s consumer demands.

New Viewing Methods

As the connected consumer experience takes shape, photos are part of the content menus that are presented to consumers from their TV screens, media players, mobile phones, and more. Online photo services that built their business on the sale of printed output are understandably reluctant to allow outside access to the images that they hold. The sites that will be on the top of users’ minds will be those that they see most frequently, and for now, the sites with open APIs are the ones that are showing up most often. Proprietary systems are unlikely to succeed. Consumers will not choose a television, a Blu-ray disc player, or even a digital photo frame because it features one photo provider instead of another. For maximum exposure, an open architecture is required.

Social Networking

In response to the growth of photo sharing on social networks, traditional online photo services have opened windows and doors in the walls surrounding the images that they hold. Not long ago, photos could be viewed only through the site to which they were uploaded, and often only after signing up for an account at that site. Now, Shutterfly users can share their photos on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or Blogger, and can also generate code that can be used to embed a Flash slideshow on other sites. Snapfish users can share their albums to Facebook, MySpace, TypePad, or Blogger, and can also order prints from photos that are in Facebook albums.

Anticipating Future Changes

Today, more consumers share photos on Facebook than any other site. Just three years ago, however, the online photo sharing landscape looked much different. It was dominated by output-centric sites such as Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, and Snapfish, along with others that have since left the stage. Three years (or less) from now, there are likely to be new players that will change the world again. It is important to identify these companies early, understand what they offer, and consider how they may work with (or against) today’s user behavior and business models.

The Bottom Line

Online services must find ways to incorporate the online photo activities that consumers value most into their business. While it may be difficult to monetize photo sharing itself, revenue opportunities may come from linking photo sharing with other value-added services such as backup and preservation of digital photo collections, or even printed output. These are services that are best offered by those who hold the high resolution images.

Further detail on these and other insights related to the U.S. online photo services market can be found in InfoTrends’ report U.S. Online Photo Services Forecast: 2009 – 2014. To learn more about this report, visit our online store or contact Robyn Wuori at +1 ext. 103 or .

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2010 InfoTrends