by Mike McNamee Published 01/04/2008
The Hewlett Packard Indigo system can now be considered mature technology even though HP are still making improvements. Indigo presses now output an estimated three out of four photobooks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was quite striking at Focus-on-Imaging that a number of companies were showing bookmaking equipment for short-run books, along with the usual mix of suppliers who effectively provide short run books, normally called 'wedding albums' - there is no shorter run than one-off!
So who makes up this estimated €370 million European business in photobooks? Well they are widely spread and the wedding album sector is but a small part of the mix. In the same way that colour film processing volume was always dominated by the public 'holiday snappers' photobooks are making inroads in this sector. This is not to leave out the professionals; by way of example, we noted when in Dubai last year that 'wedding' albums were very prominent.
In the Muslim culture the women preserve their modesty by the wearing of the veil. However they do not use wall portraiture in those parts of the house where outside visitors are likely to be present - they preserve their modesty by keeping their family 'snaps' in albums. Suddenly you see why albums are sold in such large numbers in the region! Photobooks are thus opening opportunities for professional photographers as well as threatening others.
The output from an Indigo is 4,000 full colour sheets per hour, delivering up to 1.5 million copies per month - this is BIG business. By far the biggest increase in the photographic sector is the supply of photobooks from the high street/webprovider outlets typified by, for example, Truprint, Snapfish and Max Spielman. Photobooks are predicted to account for 33% of the revenue of the photoprint market in Western Europe according to a report by Understanding and Solutions Ltd.
This is good business for the labs, but unlikely to improve the lot of the jobbing photographer - Joe Public is unlikely to discern the difference between the self-designed, webuploaded offering they make themselves and the higher-end products. In terms of technical quality, there might not be much difference anyway, especially if the product comes off the same equipment. This is also true of comparing prints made on an ASDA Fuji Frontier machine and a Frontier standing in a traditional photographic laboratory - it's the same machine and it does an identical job!
The major difference between the premium album-makers and the lower end photobook-makers is in the binding, covering, colour-quality and presentation. In order to leapfrog the public consumer making their own photobooks, the professional has to offer discernable difference in the quality of the images, output and the design of the pages.
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