Reconnect with Friends for their Birthday with Personalized Sepia Life Birthday Cards

facebook_wish_happy_birthday The all too familiar message from Facebook, reminding us to wish our friend a happy birthday, and send them a gift as well.  That followed by a Facebook wall filled with ‘Happy Birthday Todd!”   Facebook has succeeded in training us humans to respond with what could be an automated response to wish our friend a happy birthday.

How meaningful are these happy birthday messages?  Personally, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.  The people who care about me show me in much more personal and meaningful ways than how dozens of other not-so-close friends do with their ‘Happy Birthday’ post on my wall.

Giving a friend a gift on their birthday is great, if it is something you want to do. I doubt that it requires birthday_card_emailFacebook prompting you to do that though before you go through with it for a friend you really care about.  Often we may not send a gift, but a birthday card is nice.   There are countless sites online for finding and sending birthday cards to friends.  Many are sincere, some are funny, make jokes about getting old, but just about all of them lack a visual personal touch.

Sepia Life just launched a new service for sending a friend a birthday card in the mail. The front of the card is a photo or collage of photos of you and your friend. Two weeks before your friend’s birthday, Sepia Life will send you an email with a collage of photos and a selection of photos of the times you and your friend spent together.  Choose the collage or one of the photos to send on the birthday card to your friend, with a personal message on the back.  Its personal, its easy, and it brings back memories of the good times you’ve had with your friend.  Cards are free while this service is in beta.  So learn more and sign up for Sepia Life now to give it a try the next time one of your friends has a birthday.

All My Photos, On My TV, with Amazon Fire TV Stick

After a month or so wait I finally received my ~$20 Amazon TV Fire Stick.  I managed to snag it for half price when it launched with the discount for Prime members.  After 15 minutes with it, it is worth even the full price of $39.  It puts my 2 year old Roku to shame.

Unboxing

BoxIt comes in a modern simple box that is easy to unpack.

The remote is a bit cheap feeling.  So long as it doesn’t break like my Apple TV remote it works just fine.

 

 

Setup

The setup was much easier than Chromecast because Fire TV Stick comes with aIMG_0350 remote.  The remote must be based on some wireless technology and not IR since the Fire stick is hidden behind the TV.  This is nice because you don’t have to point the remote at the TV.  Using the remote I chose my WIFI network, put in the password and I was up and running. The device is preconfigured for your amazon account, so no setup needed there.  After that it plays an intro video of all the capabilities of the device.  Pretty handy if  you are unfamiliar with these types of devices.  It is also used as an opportunity for Amazon to advertise other services and related hardware to sell you.

Yesterday I downloaded the Amazon Cloud Drive desktop app and started uploading all my photos since it is not free for unlimited photos.  I expect this to take a few days to complete.

Kicking The Tires on Photos

Even without all my photos in the Amazon Cloud, I was able to easily go to the photos feature and start viewing my photos and videos.  The experience is simple but very fast.

There are quite a few slideshow controls.  Most of the basic ones you would expect from a slideshow app.  Style, speed, and whether or not to shuffle.IMG_0352

I was on the hunt for my goal, can I set it so all my photos are used as a screen saver slideshow?  Unfortunately not.  Though there are a couple other interesting options given to you.  The first is to show an album of your choosing.  Next is a selection of images from Amazon.  The last one, which is a kinda nice, is the 500 most recent photos you’ve added.IMG_0353

It is possible to start a slideshow of all your photos, it just can’t be set as the screen saver.

IMG_0355

From Phone to Fire TV

If you want to take a photo on your phone and quickly and easily show it on your tv… Apple TV has AirPlay, Chromecast has casting, Fire TV has Miracast.  What the heck is Miracast you ask?  Well, I didn’t know either.  After investigating, it sounds like if you have iOS, you are out of luck streaming anything from your phone to the TV.  If you have Android, there might be some solutions, though I have not investigated those.  This is one of those key reasons why we have an Apple TV and always will so long as we have iPhones.  It is a pain switching inputs on the TV, but there really is no way around that right now.

 Summary

While the photo experience on the Fire TV Stick is simple and enjoyable, it lacks the one key feature I am looking for, the ability to have it be a screen saver slideshow for all my photos.

The other big problem is one I’ve blogged about before, the troubles in actually getting all your photos into Amazon Cloud Drive.  You can have them automatically uploaded from your phone, but from your desktop/laptop, you have to manually upload them through an app.  Amazon does not have a desktop sync client like Google Drive or Dropbox.  I am certain Amazon will fill in these gaps.  They must or they will not be viable competitors in this space.

The photo experience must be 100% hands off except for turning on the TV or we will just not bother ever turning it on.

 

All My Best Photos, On My TV, with Chromecast

Chromecast recently received an upgrade with a new feature called Backdrop.  It is really just a fancy screen saver for your Chromecast that you can configure to show different information, or more importantly to me, my photos.  I decided to finally get a Chromecast and kick the tires of Backdrop in hopes that it might be a better always-on slideshow of my photos.

Initial Setup

In some respects the setup was easy, but I did hit a variety of what turned out to be transient failures along the way.  A couple reboots of the Chromecast iOS app and my Chromecast and it was working.  Best case scenario, the setup is straightforward and fast.

Always On Slideshow

Finding a good solution to turn my TV into an always on slideshow was my primary objective for getting a Chromecast.  I’ve tried Apple TV and Roku so far, and blogged about my unimpressed experience with them.

Backdrop

What Chromecast backdrop allows you to do is show one or more of your Google+ photo albums in a slideshow when your Chromecast goes into backdrop mode (screen saver.)  While the options for the slideshow are not as plentiful as those on Apple TV, it is a solid basic slideshow of the photos.

Backdrop meets two of the key requirements of an always on slideshow on my tv.  I don’t need my phone, computer, tablet, or any other device for backdrop to work. Once I have it set up, it will show the photos I’ve selected.  I also don’t have to turn it on or off.  If we aren’t using the TV for something else, I get to see my photos. As soon as we need the TV, the photos stop showing and I do whatever else it is I need to use the TV for.

My main gripe with backdrop is that I have to choose which albums to show.  I can’t just say, “show all my Google+ albums, current and future.”  There is now yet another task for me to manage which content (photos) to show on my Chromecast.  I really do not want, and simply can’t afford the time to have another publishing destination to my photo workflow.  I want to be able to say I like a photo once, and have it show up on my Chromecast as part of the slideshow.

Pictacast

This shortcoming of Backdrop led me to find Pictacast.  Pictacast is a Chrome extension for your desktop/laptop that allows you to cast photos to your Chromecast.  The setup is very basic.  I can choose a folder (with nested folders) of photos to show.  So this lets me choose the folder that has all the photos I like.  This happens to coincide with all the photos I put online in albums.  If they are good enough to share online, aren’t they good enough to show on my TV slide show?   So without having to manage another publishing destination, Pictacast can show me all my past and future photos on my TV via Chromecast.  The quality of the slideshow is not quite as good as backdrop.  Sometimes heads are chopped off as photos are cropped to fit the TV.  Given the lack of options for my scenario, I’d call the experience acceptable but not ideal.

The shortcoming of Pictacast is that I have to turn it on when I want my slideshow to run.  It won’t automatically start when I’m done using my Chromecast for something else.  I’ve heard some chatter online that Google may be opening up backdrop to developers in the near future, which would be a huge win and hopefully enable developers to build more robust photo slideshow experiences.

One Off Slideshows

I found quite a few more solutions for this scenario than the always on slideshow.  I have an iPhone, so I explored apps for my iPhone to show photos and videos on my TV.

Photowall, by Google is a cumbersome and overly complex solution for quick casting of photos and videos.  It requires you to create albums to cast.  It is like mini photo management app, that then lets you cast the created albums.  Needless to say, I do not need or want another photo management app, so I didn’t find this app useful at all.

Then I tried Photo Cast.  It has a relatively simple user experience for choosing a photo or video to cast.  Really the primary requirement for this scenario is that it is super simple to choose one or more photos, and show them on the TV reliably and fast.  For photos it worked as expected.  Videos on the other hand was quite a failure.  Around 50% or more of the videos I tried to cast resulted in an error in the app.  When you touch a video to cast, it does an optimization step for casting.  This is what is failing on many of the videos.  I wasn’t able to determine any rhyme or reason for the failures vs the ones that worked.  I suspect it might have to do with the slow motion videos I took on my iPhone 6 Plus.  Some slow motion videos work, others don’t.  So it isn’t a clear cut line that all slo-mo videos don’t work.  Either way, it was a frustrating and unreliable experience.  I’m back on the hunt for an iOS app to cast videos to my TV.

Summary

The Chromecast isn’t quite there to meet my bare minimum requirements for an always on slideshow or even for one off viewing.  Backdrop is a big step forward, putting Chromecast on par with Apple TV in terms of screen saver slideshows, assuming in each case you have your photos stored in their respective photo services.  Right now I’m betting on Google to be the first to have a device that can make the TV the best picture frame ever.  Chromecast already has open developer support, unlike Apple TV.  In addition, Google has shown a strong interest in helping people share and enjoy their photos more with all the photo related features they’ve added to Google+ over the past couple years.  Maybe we’ll be surprised by some other company trying to join the party.  I’ve got an Amazon Fire TV stick on the way this week.  I’ll let you know my take on Amazon’s chances of capturing our TV for photos.

How Much Are You Really Paying For Your 4×6 Prints?

You know what they say, “nothing comes for free,” even your 4×6 prints from FreePrints.   A while ago I did a blog post on the pricing games photo printing apps use to make your prints sound less expensive than they really are, with FreePrints taking the cake for claiming your prints are free.  I thought I’d follow up on that one with a brief post on a look at some of the raw data on prices for a few different popular apps for getting 4×6 prints made.   I looked at Shutterly, FreePrints, and Mail Pix Photo Prints.

The Raw DataCost Comparison

 

Everyone starts off at about $2 for a print.  Much past there, and Shutterfly is the most expensive, and FreePrints, while not at all free, is definitely the best deal

The Games

Shutterfly

Despite the seemingly simple pricing model in the above chart, Shutterfly has one dirty game they play.  Prints are listed a $0.15 per print.  However for each print you order, the shipping cost goes up by $0.05.  This is an effective 33% price increase!  The old bait and switch with low price high shipping cost is one of the oldest tricks in the book for buying a product online, and I hate it.  If they are going to always charge %0.05 for shipping for a print, it should be included in the listed price, making for fewer surprises at checkout.

As with most printing sites, Shutterfly very often has deals on 4×6 prints, recently having 100 prints free.

FreePrints

FreePrints has two games that will get you to spend more than you might think you will spend per print, never mind the ultimate bait and switch hiding 100% of the product cost in the shipping cost.  FreePrints has cost cliffs every 10 photos or so.  So 1 print will cost you $1.99.  But did you know you can also get 10 prints for $1.99 as well!?  If you want that 11th print, it’ll cost you an extra buck though, total order for 11 prints, $2.99.  This pattern continues somewhat consistently up to the 85 so called free prints you get per month.  After which point each additional print is a simple $0.09 and occasional increases in shipping costs to cover the additional prints.

The second game FreePrints plays is again with shipping.  Default shipping is 1-2 weeks.  I am highly doubtful that they are so busy they are 1 week out on being able to print your order sooner.  You can pay an extra $1 to get your order in about a week.  This is an increasingly common tactic, have intentionally slow service/shipping that you will pay more money just to speed it back up to a normally expected timeframe.

Mail Pix Photo Prints

Mail Pix doesn’t play any obvious games.  Prints are a straightforward $0.10 each, with shipping starting at $2.49.  How much your print actually costs does vary because shipping costs obviously need to go up as you add more prints.  The increase in cost isn’t a fixed amount with each photo.  There seem to be shipping cost jumps every 5-10 additional photos you add.  Given the inconsistencies in shipping costs, I’d like to believe that they are just trying to give customers the best shipping price they can, with the variability coming from the inherent variability in the USPS shipping rates.  Shipping can’t be free, so you need to pay for it somewhere.

Summary

This is admittedly a pretty nit picky criticism of the pricing games companies make when selling products.  It is something that really frustrates me because it makes for an awful user experience , and instils a sense of distrust for the company in me.  If they are obscuring the true cost of the products being sold, how can I trust they won’t change the games in such a way that I always lose unless I know the most recent version of the game and work it to my advantage?

All that said, 4×6 prints are commodity goods and pretty darn cheap.  If you buy one or just a couple prints, they are a lot more expensive.  If you buy a lot, the cost approaches $0.10 a print, a bargain!  If you are a real penny pincher, this post might be helpful.  If a few cents or a few dollars doesn’t bother you, just use whatever app you enjoy the most.  I’m personally not shy to pay more for a superior user experience as I’ve discussed before.  Also, if a photo is worth printing, it is worth much more than $0.10 to me to have printed.  It may even be worth a $1, or even more.  At the end of the day, 4×6 prints are an incredibly inexpensive way to enjoy your memories in print form.

The 5 Requirements For a Successful Photo Management Solution

A Brief History

Managing the 10s of thousands of photos we now take has been a challenge for years.  Before online storage was as cheap as it is now, there were desktop solutions.  As technology improved and storage prices dropped, online solutions such as Smugmug were born.  The waters became murkier with quality cameras exploding inside the smartphone revolution.  I no longer have just my point and shoot or DSLR, I’ve got a phone with lots of pictures on it as well.  So everyone jumped on the app bandwagon and started making mobile apps to help manage the photos you take on your phone.

Photos Today

We are now at a point where there are an overwhelming number of apps, desktop programs, and web sites, ranging from free to hundreds of dollars a year to help you store and manage all your photos.  I’ve kicked the tires on as many of these as I can over the years, hoping one company would offer a comprehensive solution to meet my photo needs, only to be disappointed.  I still rely on a patchwork solution of desktop, mobile, and online tools.  With all of this, it still  falls short of covering some of my basic needs, and failing to provide an efficient and pleasant user experience.  Often, due to cost constraints, I’m faced with making tradeoffs in what functionality I get from different services.  For example, I love the daily history emails from PictureLife and ThisLife.  However each service costs about ~$150 a year to handle my entire set of photos.  I would only need to choose one of them, but beyond the emails, I don’t get much benefit out of the service.  I need a service like SepiaLife that connects to wherever my photos are to show me photos from the past.

The Future of Photo Management

Every photo app/site/desktop solution has its checkbox list of awesome features.  Startups have been cropping up left and right the past couple years to help people deal with the onslaught of photos they are taking.  Most of them die, such as Everpix, even with a couple of awesome little gem features in them.  For a comprehensive photo solution to be successful, there are 5 key requirements I believe must be met.  Without every single one of them, I believe the lifespan of the solution is limited.

All Devices & All Screens

This is a pretty obvious but big one.  I have a phone, possibly a tablet, desktop computer, and laptop computer.  I take tons of photos with my phone, but I also have a GoPro, DSLR, and point and shoot.  Photos are coming from multiple devices.  Oh, and don’t forget your spouse and possibly even children.  There are probably 5-15 devices your family wants near instant access to view and/or manage any photo you’ve ever taken.  Then there is the time you are at your friends house and you want to show them some photos on their computer.  You need to be able to access your photos from pretty much any device in the world at any time.

There is one more important screen I haven’t mentioned yet, your TV.  This is THE focal point in the home for viewing photos in my opinion.  What matters Children looking at photos on tvhere is that you want to be able to view your photos on your TV, or even a friends TV when you go over for a visit.  AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox, and numerous other solutions offer the ability to view photos on your TV.  Unfortunately you need to meet a very narrow set of requirements in order for this to work.  Even then, I can’t tell you the frustration I’ve had 2 years in a row trying to get a photo slide show set up for our kids’ birthday party.

 Cross Platform

Within your family you might all have one ecosystem of devices, but chances are that probably isn’t true.  Apple, Google, and Microsoft likely have their tentacles into your device ecosystem somewhere, or at least two of them.  3rd party solutions have pretty much known they need to be cross platform in their solutions and have apps for Apple, Google, and Microsoft devices desktop and mobile.  Apple still tends to focus only on its ecosystem, expecting every device you care to access your content on is an Apple device.  This certainly isn’t true for me, and I am sure I am not alone.  Even if I did have all Apple products, the capabilities offered by Apple for photos is very limited, especially with the death of Aperture.  That said, I never used Aperture because Adobe Lightroom is so much better.  Microsoft is feeling a bit less confident in its market dominance these days and has been opening up more and more to making solutions that work cross platform.  Google I believe has been the best of these 3 at building solutions to span all devices.

When considering cross platform compatibility for a solution, I’m talking phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and tv devices (apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, etc.)   That is a lot of different devices to evaluate and be sure a photo solution works!

FREE Storage

Americans love free things, even if the true cost is a loss of complete privacy.  One of the largest costs to photo solutions has historically been the expense of storing the photos.  We’ve all be reached the point where the cost is now free.  Flickr offers 1 terabyte of free photo space.  Microsoft is offering unlimited OneDrive storage with an Office 365  subscription.  Google and Dropbox offer 1 terabyte of storage for ~$120 a year.  Yes a lot of money, but is actually at an affordable level for many.  Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are all in a race to free for storage as part of their cloud storage platforms.  Just this week Amazon announced unlimited free photo storage for Prime members.  I don’t think it will be long before you can expect free storage for all your photos from a dozen or more services.  This doesn’t mean you should never expect to pay for software to help manage your photos, it just means the storage should be effectively free.  When comparing the hundreds or even thousands of software solutions out there, assume storage costs are $0, and think about the functionality offered for the given price.  As I mentioned above, is $150/year from Thislife or PictureLife worth it for daily emails form the past?  No way, that is crazy expensive compared to the $120 I pay for Adobe Creative Cloud in which I get Lightroom and Photoshop.

Interoperability

The needs and desires of every person who takes photos is endless.  No single company will ever be able to build a solution that meets the needs of everyone.  When I add metadata to a photo, I need to know that no matter what software I use on my phone, tablet, desktop, or tv viewer will be able to view that metadata to enhance my experience.  That is pretty much nailed for the date/time the photo was taken.  For location, it is decent as well.  Beyond that, all bets are off.   I get lots of great face tagging in Facebook and Google+, but that doesn’t help me in my Lightroom catalog.  I have an organized folder structure on my computer of all my photos, but ThisLife and PictureLife for example, don’t recognize that as anything valuable.  I need to recreate all my albums in those services.  If I use PicMonkey to edit a photo, will my iPhone or Lightroom recognize the edits so I can undo an edit, or change it?  Nope, sorry.   The foundation of my photo solution needs to be a system that offers seamless interoperability so that I can can augment it with addition tools to meet my needs.

Developer API

A key running assumption I have here is that you are storing your photos in the cloud (or at least a backup copy of them.)   The reality of my current situation is that my photo masters are still on my desktop, with backups sync’d to the cloud.  The future of photos is everyone having the masters in the cloud.  All the devices that take photos will automatically upload new photos to my online photo repository, wherever that is.

Once there, I need the ability to manage and do things with the photos, everything I’ve been talking about in this blog post so far.  A lot of these basic capabilities should be offered by the company providing the solution.  Google for example makes it easy to backup photos from my phone(s) and computers.  I can view these photos on my TV with Chromecast, or use any web browser to view the photos.  My photos are all on Google, now what do I do?  I make another copy and put them on my desktop so I can use Lightroom for the more powerful management and editing capabilities.  This entire experience is clumsy and time consuming.  The interoperability I just talked about needs to improve, but also the developer APIs offered by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other photo sites.  For a photo service to be successful, the developer API is critical.  For example, Lightroom should be able to talk natively to Google using a rich set of photo APIs.  All my changes made in Lightroom should be automatically saved to my master photo store in Google and reflected in any other software or devices connected to my photos.

The idea of enabling developers to advance your platform and ecosystem is not new.  Microsoft did it with Windows, Apple with iPhone, and Google with Android.  If the APIs are there to enable developers to build great things, they will come.  Google’s API for example is horribly outdated and doesn’t take advantage of the rich data associated with our photos.  Microsoft is still trying to figure out how to build a quality, developer platform for cloud services.  Facebook isn’t even a real photo storage service because it rips out metadata and doesn’t store the original photo file. Flickr is the best example of a more modern API built specifically for photos.

Summary

For a photo solution to succeed, it needs all of these ingredients.  As much as I like the user experiences and some of the features from PictureLife and ThisLife, I believe they are destined to go the way of Everpix, poof.  ThisLife may be an exception because it was purchased by Shutterfly which has other incentives to get people to use the service.  Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Flickr, and some others have deep pockets and scale to offer that super critical free storage (even if they aren’t quite there yet.)   Not a single one of them really delivers on all these capabilities yet.  This past week another new startup, Mylio, released their attempt at a solution.  I’ve been using it since one of the betas.  While the user experience is nice, I am not sure how they are going to be able to make a business out of it.  The offering just seems to similar to other attempts and also doesn’t meet my 5 requirements.

We’ve come a long way since the dawn of digital photos and I think we’ve got a long way to go.  I’m hoping with the storage cost variable nearly out of the way, it will accelerate the focus on all the other aspects of building a solution for the world.  In the mean time, armies of developers, myself included, will keep plugging away trying to do our part to get more out of our photos.

Groovebook – The Recurring Groupon

For those who don’t know what Groovebook is, it is a subscription service that will send you a 4×6 photo book of up to 100 of your photos, every month, for $2.99.

You will forget to order your photo book, several times a year

I compare Groovebook to Groupon because if you actually use your subscription to the max every month,loose change then awesome, I think you are getting a pretty darn good deal. If you aren’t, then Groovebook is just taking your money to the bank. Groovebook knows, just like Groupon, that people are busy, and choosing 100 photos is time consuming! My napkin math tells me that Groovebook’s business model assumes 25-50% of books will never be ordered. I would not be surprised at all if this is what is actually happening.

Bad attitude towards customers

This sort of approach in a business model isn’t new, and I don’f feel like there is anything inherently wrong with it.  If that is what makes a business viable, and consumers still come and make it thrive, great, so long as everyone is happy.   What really rubs me the wrong way is that Groovebook has taken some fairly common tactics to make the bad deal (not ordering every book) even worse than it needs to be.  For one, you can just not order a book one month, but you still pay $2.99.  Umm, really?  And this is what the Groovebook FAQ says about it “No problem, we will still keep your account active. The fee of $2.99 is a subscription cost, so it will still be charged if you decide not to receive a book one month. We hope this is such a small fee that you will not choose to cancel GrooveBook.”  Let me translate this last sentence to what Groovebook is thinking “we know people are busy and you will never get around to canceling anyway, so we will just keep taking your money even if we don’t offer you any value.”

No self service ‘cancel my subscription’ from the app or website

Wait, it gets better.  If you do want to cancel your subscription, you need to email them.  There is no self service ‘cancel my account’ on their web site or app.  This sort of tactic is used by cable companies, phone companies, gym memberships, etc because they want to make it hard for you to stop wasting your money and them pocketing it.  I’m a firm believer in giving customers control and an awesome user experience.   Always make them feel like you are giving them the best overall experience ever and it is worth every penny they spend on it.  The Groovebook FAQ is like giving you the middle finger, “hey it’s only $2.99, chump change, forget about it.” That is not the kind of attitude I want from a business I am considering purchasing a product from.

To this day, I haven’t ordered a Groovebook.  The primary reason was the 100 photos. I don’t have the time to find 100 photos, and I don’t really want 100 photos floating around every month.  Now, what is really keeping me from buying is the email required to cancel and their attitude about paying even when you don’t order a book one month.

So Groovebook, an awesome deal or a horrible deal, it’s up to you.  Are you the super diligent person who will take on this task every month?  You will get a nice book subsidized by all the people who for whatever reason never get around to ordering one.. Before signing up, really think about whether or not the way you will use it and if it will ultimately be worthwhile.

Photo Printing Sites & Apps Are Focusing On The Wrong Thing

Higher Quantity, Lower Cost, and Pricing Games

shutteflydiscount

Sample ad I saw for a crazy amount of free prints

For as long as I can remember, sites where you can get photos printed in books, 4×6 prints, cards, calendars, cups, etc. have seemingly been in constant discount mode so long as you know the secret code to get the discount.  This year things have taken a little bit of a shift and and competition has heated up.  Now the focus is on how many prints you can get for the least amount of money.  Groovebook is offering 100 prints in a book for $2.99, delivered.  This Labor Day Shutterfly had a promotion to get 101 prints for free.  PhotoAffections came out with an iOS app called Free Prints earlier this year, up to 1000 free* prints per year.   I barely have the time to choose 1 or 2 photos to print, let alone 101, or 1000!

Fast, Simple, Quality

mosaic

Mosaic Book home page

What I think the vast majority of people want is simplicity and consistency.  I want simplicity in pricing, ease of choosing a product, easy of choosing photo(s) for the product(s) I want to purchase.  I love the Mosaic app for all of these reasons. $20, 20 photos, in a well design photo book, all the time, super simple, done.  Ease of use and shortest path to completing the purchase are key.  Sure, I could spend $2.99 and get 100 prints in a book from Groovebook.  However the book is junk compared to what Mosaic offers.  Also, who has time to choose 100 photos at once?  Sometimes I want 100 photos in a book, but that is rare, and in those cases I will need to spend more time to choose the photos, which I don’t have now.  I’m willing to pay more per photo for a quality, simple, fast purchasing experience.  It isn’t about the cheapest 4×6 print folks!  Parting with 13 cents for a 4×6 print isn’t what is keeping people away from buying more prints from you.

Postcard Back

Back of #SepiaMail postcard

Pricing games are not a way to gain faithful customers in the long run.  The price I am going to pay needs to be consistent day to day.  My time as a parent is limited enough, I don’t want to have to hunt for a discount code, wait for the window to open, then order my prints.  I need to strike while the iron is hot.  I’ve got my photo, I want it sent to to my parents and grandparents, I want to do it now, and I’m willing to pay X amount for it.  #SepiaMail, a new service from Sepia Life is another examples that is trying to give people what they really want from a photo printing service.  When I’m posting a photo to Facebook of my son or daughter riding their bike or climbing a tree, I want my family who isn’t on Facebook to see the photo as well.  With #SepiaMail I can just add #SepiaMail #grandparents #sister to the end of caption as I’m writing it for the post, and #SepiaMail will print the photo and send it as a 4×6 postcard to my grandparents and sister.  I didn’t need to spend the time doing an entirely separate photo selection and publish workflow to get the postcards sent in another app or site.  Just a few extra taps on my phone when I’m already posting a photo, and I’m done.

Other gotchas with pricing

Since I brought up the topic of pricing games and some examples, I thought I’d go into some of the nitty gritty details on the games that are played.  For the FreePrints app there are a variety of restrictions and upsells, but the primary way they cover costs, and most certainly make money is you always pay shipping, $1.99 minimum. I select all the photos in one of my Facebook albums, 68, and it was gong to charge me $8.99 for shipping.  So I’d be paying ~13 center per photo, not a bad deal, but not free.  For comparison, Shutterly charges 15 cents per 4×6 print, so the Free Prints app is competitive with that, but again not free.  Free Prints is simply a product built around marketing, taking advantage of people’s thirst for free goods, and many people’s lack of time/desire/etc to bother looking into whether or not they are getting a good deal or not.

Free Prints is really the app that has taken cost games to the extreme for photo prints, and represents one of the huge problems I see in photo printing.  I personally can’t stand pricing games such as the ones Free Prints, Shutterfly, and most photo printing sites use.  I don’t think I’m alone here either.  The sites are set up so that unless you pay attention and do more work, you are probably going to get screwed and pay way more than you really should for your photo print product.

Summary

Photo printing needs to evolve so it isn’t a chore.  It needs to adapt to fit into my lifestyle and the way in which I view and share photos.  #SepiaMail is just one simple way in which this can be done.  Digital photos online are great, but I’m convinced that physical prints are the best way to love your photos again, and again, and again…