Port Melbourne-based Pictureworks has been a quiet achiever through 2013, building its own strong business-to-consumer brand, Albumworks, as well as working with clients such as Officeworks, Target, Ted’s Cameras and Canon (Photopico).
Pictureworks has been in the photo book business since 2006, formerly operating under the Albumprinter brand. It employs anything from 35 to 75 staff depending on the workload, and with the southern hemisphere’s co-incidence of Christmas and the busy summer holiday period, it’s currently all hands on deck.
To some extent, the low-key approach comes with the territory. Though it must rankle not to be able to reel off the impressive customer roll, Pictureworks managing director Andrew Smith was reluctant to discuss his clients. As he told Photo Counter, ‘All big retailers are fiercely protective of their brand. It’s about trying to build brand position in marketplace.’
Hence there is – to varying degrees depending on the customer – a facade thrown up to mask the fact that Pictureworks rather than Target, Canon or whomever is the actual supplier. You have to dig into the fine print in the T&Cs and Privacy Policies to get to the nub of the arrangements.
Hence in the Officeworks fine print: The ’Officeworks Photobooks powered by Pictureworks’ service is provided by Pictureworks Group Pty Ltd…the owner, provider and operator of the service.’)
This is somewhat similar to Fujifilm’s arrangements with Big W and Harvey Norman when you dig into the devilish detail on those retailers’ websites.
But with Pictureworks, as Andrew Smith notes, ‘we make sure we mould the offer to what they are trying to achieve.’ Each of the arrangements is slightly different.
For instance Pictureworks handles all Target’s photo printing business on the http://target.photo-products.com.au/ website. Target only offer photo books, calendars, cards and canvas prints and has dropped 6x4s and other small formats entirely from its range.
Target/Pictureworks have also introduced another brand – ‘Moments by Mockingbird’ – targeted (pun unintended) at the baby album market.
Whereas Officeworks has Kodak kiosks and dye-sub printers handling the small print business, and Pictureworks the more complex products like photo books.
Over at Ted’s Cameras, the Lifepics affiliation accounts for the bulk of online business, with Pictureworks looking after the ‘Photolounge Pro’ segment, offering high definition 2400dpi photo books only.
Beyond it’s premium Photolounge Pro service, Ted’s does whatever it can do in-house and outsources the rest to the Lifepics/Photo Direct Melbourne-based wholesale fullfilment operation, Digital Imaging Network. (Hope you’re following all this!)
The involvement of Pictureworks in Canon’s Photopico business is entirely invisible. It can only really be deduced by knowing that Pictureworks has the only commercial Dreamlabo high volume, high definition printer in Australia. That’s #001 in the world. #002 is located in Canon’s North Ryde headquarters and used as a demonstration unit.
(Makes one wonder whether Australia hasn’t been chosen as a test market for the new Dreamlabo printers, a la Kodak Image Magic back in the day.)
The Dreamlabo printer is Pictureworks ace up the sleeve, although Andrew Smith would argue that the company’s online marketing and software development capabilities also provide a sharp competitive edge.
‘We are a software and online marketing company that prints,’ as he puts it. He emphasised that Pictureworks invests a lot in its staff, and much of that focus is on ‘software development and web marketing skills.’
But the HD printing capabilities of the Dreamlabo can’t be discounted. It really does produce sumptuous, visually stunning photographs, which combined with crisp text printing gives it the lead against competing high volume printers like the Indigos (HP), Nexpresses (Kodak) and iGens (Fuji Xerox). Anyone in the photo book business should make it a priority to order a Dreamlabo-produced product. (There are plenty of outlets!)
With its 2400dpi stochastic technology, it’s the gold standard for the printing of photo books, enlargements and the like. And not only that, it hums along with virtually no downtime.
‘I wish all our machines were as reliable,’ said Mr Smith.
One segment Pictureworks hasn’t gone near as yet is mugs, mousemats, keyrings, T-shirts and other assorted photo geegaws: ‘Not at this time. It’s an open item for discussion,’ said Mr Smith.
Pictureworks actually outsources its Indigo printing to neighbouring Port Melbourne print supplier On Demand, so that all ‘SD’ standard definition photo book printing is handled by On Demand and the HD high definition printing comes off the Dreamlabo printer. Pictureworks also handles wide-format enlargement and canvas printing (via Canon printers) and has a comprehensive range of book-binding options in-house.
‘We are very pleased with the take-up rate (of the HD printing option)’ said Andrew Smith. ‘It’s exceeded the business case and we get really good customer feedback.
He said that the popularity of HD printing is an indication of the photo products marketplace maturing.
‘It’s not just a race to the bottom on price. Different segments have different sets of needs, and it’s continuing to grow.’
One segment which Pictureworks is now developing via its own Albumworks online brand is web-based creation of photo books and other photo products. There’s no software for the customer to download and the web-based option is tablet-friendly and compatible with touch screens. A project can be worked on from any PC, laptop or tablet with an internet connection.
Another is ’15-minute photo books’ from Instagram photos. The customer connects using their Instagram account and photos are instantly imported ready for layout. The templates are limited to simple grid options, with no text (the default option is one image per page) and images are simply dragged and dropped via touch screen or mouse to produce a softcover or hardcover, SD or HD 15x15cm book. Price is $22.95 for a softcover SD and $40.95 for softcover HD. The Instagram service is compatible with smartphones as well as computers and tablets.
Mr Smith said that Pictureworks is also beginning to make inroads into the pro market, and has been incorporating PDFs supplied by professionals into its workflow.
‘It’s still a new concept. There’s amazement by pros at the quality, and the fact they can have a 20 to 200 run book with no capital risk.’
He said there was ‘a range of further enhancements coming in 2014 in support of the pro market.’
Ad agencies and PR consultancies were another couple of segments which he felt would benefit from the kind of capabilities Pictureworks could offer.