Last month, Blurb announced a global partnership with Samsung for auto-creating photo books and magazines on the company’s new GALAXY S 4 smartphone, available today from T-Mobile and later this week from other carriers. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne spoke with Blurb SVP Bruce Watermann who shared details about the app and his thoughts about mobile and print in general.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: April 24, 2013
In mid-March, we noted the announcement
by Blurb of its global partnership with Samsung to provide an app that
makes it easy for consumers to auto-create photo books and magazines.
This is another great example of the opportunities created by today’s
mobile and digital world that ultimately will extend the life and value
of printed materials. Bruce Watermann explains, and also shares his
thoughts about the future of print.
WTT: This is a very exciting announcement. As I
understand it, this is the biggest smartphone launch yet for Samsung,
with millions of Galaxy S 4 phones expected to be sold.
BW: Yes, the official launch is today, April 24th, with T-Mobile and other carriers including Sprint and AT&T to following in a few days.
WTT: Tell us about the photo book app that will be native with the phone.
BW: It is called Story Album, and it was developed
by Samsung. Samsung developed the software that lays out the albums and
prepares images for publication in book form, either digital or
printed. We created the cloud-based app that handles the rendering,
transactionpayment processing in seven currencies, printing, and
shipping to 70 countriesfor printed book. sThe app will be pre-installed
in the Galaxy S 4 phone and is slated for other Samsung mobile devices
later this year.
WTT: Why do you think Samsung was interested in developing an app for printed photo books?
BW: This phone has a 5” inch screen and a 13
megapixel camera as well as a number of other great features. There is a
lot of opportunity to do stuff with that camera and with the phone, and
I believe Samsung wanted to give its customers way to do more with all
of their photos, the opportunity to not only capture the images, but
quickly and easily commemorate special life events in a much more
WTT: This phone has a 5” screen. Sounds big …
BW: It is definitely big, but a lot of people seem
to be okay with it. I think Samsung is really looking ahead and
thinking about phones being a traveling computer. Certainly from the
perspective of making a book, the larger screen is a good thing. That
extra inch of screen space is significant if you are going to use it as a
creation, rather than just a consumption, device.
WTT: Once someone creates a book in Story Album and decides to print, what happens?
BW: Our cloud-based back-end app takes over and
prepares the file for printing. Users have the option of choosing a
7x7” book, which is already a standard Blurb size, or a 5x5” book which
is exclusive to Samsung, kind of like a “brag book” size. The smaller
book will be perfect bound and a 20-page book will sell for $8.95 plus a
nominal shipping fee. The larger book has a choice of either soft cover
or hard cover, what we call an “ImageWrap.” We use UPS Mail Innovations
for shipping which keeps the shipping costs down. Standard production
is four days, but we are working on a number of options we think will
enable us to bring that number down. Shipping time depends on the
customer’s location around the world,but runs 6-12 days
WTT: Your release references a network of six
printing locations, which I assume are partners. Where will these books
initially be printed and on what equipment?
BW: Our official statement about our printing
network is that we utilize six printing facilities on three different
continents shipping to more than 70 countries with transactions in seven
currencies and eight languages. Our confidentiality agreements with
our partners preclude us from disclosing who those partners are.
However, the books initially will be printed on an HP Indigo 10000, and
the application has been optimized for that device. This gives us the
level of quality we need, and the sheet size gives us the multiple-up
capability that drives the individual unit cost down to what we consider
to be a consumer sweet spot, where it is an easy decision for the user
to buy the printed book once they have assembled it.
WTT: I am sure you must have done some volume projections.
BW: We believe that mobile devices will soon become
the standard for personal creation as well as consumption. But how
quickly that happens is anyone’s guess. News reports indicate that
Samsung expects to ship 4X the number of these phones as compared to the
S3, which was their most successful phone to date when they released
it. This is pretty quickly going to become the biggest smartphone launch
in the world. Of course, the photo book app will not ramp up to full
speed on day one, but we initially have a dedicated HP Indigo 10000 to
handle the volume if we need it. We have also worked closely with HP
during the development process. They have been terrific to work with,
helping us ensure that we optimize the app for that press and that we
can fast-track new equipment as needed. We are upset up to increase
global capacity quickly as demand grows.
WTT: Is this an application you expect to see move to inkjet?
BW: With consumers who choose to create printed
items, there are two key criteria for success: quality and price. Right
now, the HP Indigo has the quality we need, and the sheet size and
other factors allow us to address the price criterion. I think inkjet
will play a role as it continues to evolve both in terms of quality and
the availability and cost of substrates.
WTT: Do you expect to see similar offerings from other phone manufacturers?
BW: If this is successful, you have to think that
others will copy it. But keep in mind that it is a lot of work to carry
this off. It is not just a matter of building an app. For the digital
books, it is easier, but for printed products, you have to work out all
of the logistics, and that is what we excel at, and why Samsung chose us
as their partner. Since the beginning, we have been a global company
and we already ship to all of the countries that are important to them.
As the smartphone moves toward becoming the primary computer for many
people, especially the 35 years and below age group, we will also be
looking at how we can create new solutions with partners. You will see
more from us on the mobile front moving forward.
WTT: I think many in the printing industry see
mobile communications, or electronic communications in general, as a
threat. What message would you have for them?
BW: Generally speaking, we still don’t have at a
leadership level in the printing industry people from the mobile and
internet generation. The average age at Blurb is 29 years old, and that
keeps me grounded with respect to what’s coming. I think sometimes the
printing business tries to force its way in instead of doing the things
that come naturally. That happened with personalization and transpromo,
and it is easy to go overboard with service providers believing that is
the Holy Grail. As this generation moves higher into the
organizations, they will begin to see the natural way print fits into
the ecosystem, and that’s when the rubber meets the road.
Unfortunately, we are a little ways off from that, but it will be
exciting. When I started with Corbis in 1993, there was no digital
stock photography to be downloaded, or even shipped on CDs. It was all
transparencies. That doesn’t even exist anymore; that transition is
complete. The bottom line is that print has to be always good; it can’t
be just okay. These consumers will consider it a waste if the quality
isn’t good. There is a business around that, and you have to tip your
hat to the fact that some things deserve to go digital and they don’t
deserve to go to print. In transitional situations like this, there are
always opportunities, but there are, unfortunately, casualties as well.
WTT: So looking out a few months or years?
BW: People will be willing to pay for print because
it will be more rare, but the quality has to be good. Look at the
Xerox iGen4 with its matte toner as an example. That’s a great product
and the quality is really nice. The fact that print is going to become
more valuable will enable people to do more research to continue to
bring innovative products to market. The digital technology will
continue to be better and increasingly consistent. Keep in mind that
that future audience, people who are now 35 and younger, are not going
through ads in the newspaper; that’s not how they find things.
I recently received a catalog from Home Depot with high end home
products. I could not believe the quality and the accuracy of the color
swatches. Even five or six years ago, would you trust something you get
in the mail with color accuracy? These are spot on. The fact that
people are now giving that kind of thought to these printed products is a
sea change. I’m bullish about the future of the industry and the
benefits this transition can bring. While the transition that is
underway has been tough on printing businesses, those who learn to
monetize print in this new environment will be successful, and there are
already a number of companies who have done that.