The innovative creators of the Resolve blog recently asked what the next 10 years hold for photo books — will they be digital or physical, open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?
I spend my days thinking about just those issues. I’m a Senior Product Manager here at Lulu and have photo books in the portfolio of products that I oversee. I’m excited about the future of photo books and am certain that the genre will look quite a bit different in a decade. Here are a few thoughts:
The Long Tail Gets Longer
The rise of digital photography and the proliferation of cameras in the portable electronic devices we all carry makes each of us a photographer, collectively empowered to capture and save more than 25 billion images every year. That’s more than 10 times the number of photo prints produced only a decade ago, and, according to research providers such as PMA, the tail still has a long way to grow.
The Democratization of Publishing
The evolution of Web-enabled print on demand technology pioneered by Lulu means that any aspiring creator can turn a digital document into a printed physical artifact, including high-quality image reproduction. Open standards in eBooks mean that the same digital content can be published and distributed virtually to any marketplace and any device with a connection to the Internet. This means that tomorrow’s photo book, once published, will be made available globally at the click of a button.
The Wisdom of Crowds
With all this content available the problem becomes how to sort it and make it available and discoverable by the people who need it. Google is only one part of the solution here. Collaborative filtering technologies and services such as weRead (which is owned by Lulu), Twitter and Yelp allow us to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience to find content that’s relevant to us — or have it pushed to us via feeds and updates.
The Virtual Marketplace
As well as empowering creation and collaboration, the Web also facilitates commerce. The intersection of the long tail of content and the rise of the virtual marketplace is an opportunity for any aspiring creator — be they a journalist, writer or photographer. Not only is it now easier to create, but it’s also much easier to sell. Sites like Fotolia and Lulu allow photographers to commercialize their works instantaneously and be discovered by commercial buyers and enthusiasts in a way that was not possible before. And there might be no better measure of the quality, interest value and impact of a photographer’s work than the number of buyers prepared to pay money for the right to own it.
The Future of Photo Books
It’s clear that the photo books of tomorrow will not be the same as those of today. Change will be driven by the rise of new formats allowing creators to connect with their readers in new ways, including combinations of text, images, audio and, ultimately, video. And as the quality of on-screen reproduction continues to improve, consumption will move progressively from print to electronic devices such as tablets and smart phones.
The long tail phenomenon, the democratization of publishing, the wisdom of crowds and the virtual marketplace are four trends that will allow creators and consumers alike to profit from and enjoy all the more this already popular medium.