Photo Publishing Opportunities with Instagram

By | February 27, 2012

For the past few years, many companies have attempted to find opportunities for the print publishing of social online content. Content-rich social networks like Twitter and Facebook have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable third-parties to, with user approval through social sign-in, flow information and graphics from your account to their service. As more consumers centralize their photos around a handful of online services, particularly in the social media realm, it becomes increasingly important for photo publishers to offer integration with these sites. How much does social matter? According to an InfoTrends study from 2010, close to 60% of consumers that upload photos to the Internet reported using Facebook most often to accomplish this task (up from just 30% in 2009, and continuing on a growth trajectory).

While networks like Facebook are critically important due to their sheer size of user base (i.e., potential opportunity), niche social networks that revolve around photo sharing are making a big splash. Specifically, photo sharing network Instagram has garnered a lot of attention recently. If you’re not familiar with Instagram, it is an iOS app that lets users take photos, apply different filters to those photos, and share them with other Instagram friends or with other networks like Facebook and Twitter. Social sign-on is tenet of Instagram’s popularity: users connect their existing social network accounts to Instagram to find friends, share photos, and build a following.

Instagram has experienced incredible growth over the past year-plus. At the end of 2010, the network had around 100,000 users; at the end of 2012, it surpassed 15 million users… not bad for a start-up with 10 employees. Social integration, filter types, and the quality of iOS cameras (ranging from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels, depending on the version) are all success factors for Instagram. That quality level is also important for photo publishers looking to tap into the Instagram opportunity.

Around this time last year, Instagram launched an API for developers looking for new and interesting ways to tap into the photo sharing network’s content. One result of this launch was the proliferation of a number of tools and services that enable Instagram users to print their photos in a variety of different formats. All users have to do to use most of these services is login with their Instagram account (again, the power of social sign-on); depending on service, different methods will be provided for selecting and printing your photos. A number of existing services include:

  • Postagram: This service, which is available through iOS and Android mobile apps, lets users send personalized print postcards with a photo of their choice to friends and family. While there are many similar services available (including Apple’s own “Cards” app), what’s unique is that the photo area is die-cut, enabling photos to be popped out of the postcard and posted elsewhere. While Postagram takes its namesake from Instagram, the app also lets users send postcards including their Facebook photos, as well as photos residing on their mobile device.
  • Blurb: As many of you may know, Blurb is a prominent photo publisher, primarily with its photo book offerings. To complement its existing services, Blurb launched its Instagram integration in July last year, providing templates that easily let people turn their Instagram albums into long-lasting physical keepsakes.
  • CanvasPop: CanvasPop specializes in providing online services for canvas printing, and its Instagram integration was activated just before Christmas last year, enabling people to order 12″ x 12″ or 20″ x 20″ canvas prints of their Instagram photos.
  • Stickygram: A project birthed from digital ad agency MintDigital, Stickygram provides an interface for people to order a pack of 9 magnets that include different Instagram photos on it for just $14.99, and also lets users buy them as gifts for people. This company markets its product particularly well, with lots of different promotions and a strong social media presence.
  • Other Instagram-inspired printing services include Instagoodies (1″ stickers), Instamaker (photo merchandise), (various photo products), and Casetagram (iPhone cases).

It is important to note that integrating with the API is just the first step; in other words, if you build it, they will not necessarily come. The aforementioned companies all do a fair amount of marketing, especially on social networks and through daily deal sites like Groupon. Additionally, these sites are dealing with user-generated content, and even though most people use Instagram to take and share their own photos, they can also post third-party, non-original content, which could run afoul of copyright laws. These types of factors need to be considered before embarking on your quest to capture print volume from Instagram.

Clearly, there is a lot of interest and potential opportunity by leveraging Instagram (and other online social content) to drive photo publishing services. That opportunity will likely increase dramatically, as Instagram plans to release an Android version of its app at some point this year (date still TBA); this move will bring millions more users to the photo sharing network, especially considering Android’s market share dominance in the smartphone space.

The ultimate point is that today, Internet start-ups can gain user traction extremely rapidly (just look at Pinterest… that topic is for another blog, though). Additionally, to promote growth, these services inevitably offer sharing and integration capabilities, providing opportunities for third-parties to utilize content in new and interesting ways. Building useful services around these new platforms, especially around photo publishing and on-demand printing, can open the door to new customers and more volume.

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