Better Photo Books Will Increase Sales

I recently surveyed consumers familiar with photo products to better understand their attitudes toward photo books and long-term preservation. I ran the survey in a photo-related group on Facebook in October 2021 to get a variety of responses from customers who had experience with various manufacturers.

The responses indicated a comfort level with current photo books, as well as opportunities for future growth. Some customers were comfortable purchasing photo books from a specific manufacturer; others were less comfortable or in some cases, unwilling to buy photo books.

I received sixty-eight unique responses:

  • 4.4%  have had experience with poor quality photo books and will not purchase photo books because of their experience.
  • 8.8% have not used photo  because of concerns about durability and longevity.
  • 26.5% would be more likely to use photo books if they had more information about their durability and longevity.
  • 38.2% of consumers want more information on photo book durability and longevity.

Even though I received only a limited number of responses, these responses are typical of the industry as a whole. Many consumers want more information about the permanence of photo books, and some consumers will not order photo books without better assurances that their photo books will be durable and long-lasting

Specific comments are also informative:

  • I did photo books from [one manufacturer] that are still lovely 10 years later. I have been disappointed by other companies.
  • I am so very picky about which companies BECAUSE previous purchases turned out poorly.
  • I don’t want to waste my money on photo books that are poor quality. I will spend my money on albums that are more likely to last, but I also want a digital copy of the pages so that I can reprint as necessary should a book get destroyed through deterioration or forces out of my control.
  • I’m not as confident in what’s currently available but my [current manufacturer] books seems to be doing well so far.

Feel free to add your thought about the quality, durability, and permanence of photo books you have purchased in the comments to this message.

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Forever and PDF File Size Limits

One of my goals is to always preserve the photo books I create on my Forever site. I don’t always care about individual photos, since in the absence of specific information about the photos and a system to organize them, a collection of thousands of separate images is not very useful. In comparison, photo books are well organized with information about the photos and consequently, worth preserving.

My latest photo book was 679 MB in size and when I tried to preserve it on Forever, I found out that doing so required significant effort. Initially, I received a “File is too big” message when I tried to upload my file, even though I had more than sufficient space in my account.

Forever’s site indicates that it can accept video files up to 4 GB, so I could not understand what the problem was. If the site could accept a large video file, why couldn’t it accept a large PDF file? Conceptually, one file is the same as another. It is just a string of binary digits.

I contacted customer support and eventually learned that there is a 250 MB cap on PDF files. The problem Forever appears to be having is that the code that Forever uses to process the PDF file is generally limited to 512 MB and to account for the space required for previews, Forever places a 250 MB limit on PDF files. Forever is looking at increasing this limit but they have not so far done so.

Forever suggested a number of options including uploading the file from within Artisan or breaking the file into parts. These options were unacceptable. I wanted my photo book to retain its integrity as a single file. To me, splitting the file into pieces, while technically possible, is equivalent to taking a book and tearing in half. Just don’t do it.

After a few emails, Forever agreed to have their engineers manually place my file into my account. I sent Forever a link to my file in Dropbox, they uploaded it, and I am happy to report that my photo book file is currently leading a happy life in my Forever account.

Forever can bypass its own file size limits and allow you to preserve larger files in your Forever account. If you run into the same problems I did, contact customer and request that they manually put your files in your account. It may not be the best solution, but it works, and if Forever gets tired of manually transferring files, they can always fix the underlying problems that made the manual transfer necessary in the first place.

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A Tale of Two Reprints

Photo Book with correctly printed cover (top) and with white line on the right edge of the cover (bottom)

Shutterfly offers an automatic photo book creation process. I created my photo book but when it was time to order, I suffered a case of severe case of photo book sticker shock. No problem. I could easily wait to place my order until the next suitable sale. This sale came in the middle of August when Shutterfly ran an unlimited free extra pages sale.

Right side of front cover

I placed my order on August 14 with high expectations, and in about a week I received my book. I saw the book and was immediately disappointed. Where I intended for a photo to wrap around the cover, I saw only a white edge. My first thought was that I had screwed up and failed to properly place my cover photo. I went back into Shutterfly’s site and convinced myself that the problem was, in fact, not my fault. Shutterfly had failed to allow sufficient space on the edges of the cover for wrapping the cover around the edges.

I called up Shutterfly the next day and was assured by the customer service agent that Shutterfly would reprint my book correctly. I had my doubts because I could not understand how reprinting would address the fact that the printed cover simply was not long enough to wrap around the book, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and let them reprint the book. I also took this opportunity to correct about a dozen photos that had printed too dark in the original book.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. I received my book back with the same white line on the edges of the cover. Time to contact Shutterfly again. This time I escalated the problem and was able to reach someone who understood the problem and was able to edit the original file and fix the underlying problem. I received my photo book today, and I love the results.

I ordered my book with the hinged lay-flat pages and professional 6-color printing. Printing is high-quality and the text is sharp. The binding was well-done, although I will also note that the first two books had minor imperfections in the binding process. One of the books had a defect apparent at the top of the spine, and the other was missing some adhesive between the book block and the end sheet. I’m not sure if I would have returned the books for these reasons, but it didn’t really matter because of the cover defect.

Binding defect (left) and missing adhesive (right)

If a photo book has a problem, insist that the company fix the problem That’s what I did with Shutterfly, and I am glad I did. I could have lived with the initial book, but I would have always been disappointed. Now I have a photo book that I really like.

Shutterfly has also promised to fix the problem with their design software that led to a white line appearing on my cover, so hopefully nobody else will encounter the same problem.

Overall, I was impressed enough with Shutterfly’s photo book creation process and with the resulting book that I am planning to order from them again.

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Shutterfly Wins at Automatic Photo Book Creation

After my previous post on creating a photo book at Shutterfly, I received multiple suggestions from readers of this blog to try Forever’s automatic photo book creation process. I decided to give it a try and see how it worked. I didn’t get too far. When I tried to tell Forever what photos to use, I got a message “You are trying to select 765 files but you can only select 397 at a time. Please try again with a smaller selection” I didn’t want to use a smaller selection. I had no problem selecting and putting 765 photos in my Shutterfly book.

I have since learned that Forever limits you to four photos on a page when you use their autocreation process. This limit makes no sense, especially for a 12×12 album. I looked at my Shutterfly book and the average number of photos on a page is six to eight, with a range from one to twenty photos per page. Shutterfly also includes two-page photos in their auto creation process to further improve layout options.

Until Forever improves its autocreation process, my recommendation is to manually create photo books if you have the time, or pick another company.

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Photo Book Creation at Shutterfly

I recently finished creating a photo book using Shutterfly’s online photo book creator. I had various reasons for selecting Shutterfly, but the primary reason was the need to deal with an overwhelmingly large number of photos from a family trip to Europe.

Before beginning, I verified that the books that Shutterfly produces would meet my quality requirements:

  • Permanent adhesives used for binding – PUR, not hot melt
  • Appropriate paper weight – 65# cover (heavier than my other books)
  • Print quality – six color professional printing is available
  • Size availability – no 12×12 softcover is disappointing, but otherwise the options are fine (I will have to settle for 10×10 for softcover).

Overall, the process went reasonably well, and in a weekend, I was able to create a 111 page book for our trip. More about the 111 pages later.

My comments do not mean that I did not have problems and did not have to make adjustments. Here are some of my thoughts in hope of helping others with this process:

  • Get rid of duplicates and photos with problems before uploading. Shutterfly has not yet learned that they don’t have to put every photo in a book. Edit photos prior to uploading if at all possible.
  • Get the dates and times correct. Shutterfly will use this information to create your book and if it is wrong the results are not good, with photos appearing in seemingly random order. This warning is particularly important if you include photos from multiple sources. The problem I had was that my camera was on U.S time and my phone automatically corrected the time to European time. In one case, I also used fake times for some photos to get Shutterfly’s photo book creator to put the photos in the order I wanted. Windows Photos will allow you to change the date and time a single photo. Correcting the data for a large numbers of photos is more complicated than I can cover here.
  • Expect to make some adjustments to the pages that Shutterfly creates. Shutterfly doesn’t always know which photo is most important and in some cases their cropping is bizarre, but these are relatively easy changes to make. Cropping can be adjusted and it is easy to swap one picture for another. I also wound up deleting some of the photos to make space for titles and captions.
  • Shutterfly’s photo selection for the cover and title page appears to have no logic. You will need to change these photos to ones that are more suitable. Actually, the tools for editing are too limited. I wound up using Forever’s Artisan to create my cover, since I could not figure out how to create the cover I wanted with the tools that were available. It was not difficult to upload a new cover to replace the default. I did the same thing for the title page.
  • European characters are a problem that I could not resolve. I had travelled to Norway and Norwegian place names include Norwegian characters that Shutterfly’s photo book creator croaked on. It simply would not let me enter these captions. Apparently, somebody at Shutterfly made the dumb decision not to provide full unicode support for the fonts that they offer, and because you cannot use your fonts you are simply out-of-luck.
  • Some of the embellishments did not resize correctly. I resolved this problem by not using those embellishments, since they were not critical.

Now, I am at the point where I have a photo book, at least one that is happily living virtually on Shutterfly’s servers. I shared the photo book with my family and they were impressed, but I have no intention of ordering it right now. At over $200 for the photo book with the current sale, I am still suffering from sticker shock. By the way, “50% off almost everything” doesn’t include extra pages.

I am wait for a better sale and will place my order then. I am also hoping that the Norwegian text issue will be resolved by then. When I do order a book, I will write a full review of the printed book here. Until then, enjoy the virtual cover that I have included with this blog posting.

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Neil James Mizen

Remembrance of Neil Mizen (May 21, 1932-April 6, 2021)

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April 14, 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about my father. I would like to share a little bit about his background and how it affected me.

As many of you know my father was an engineer. He was always interested in how things work and how to improve them. He could talk for hours about something as simple or should I say not so simple as an automotive transmission.

He also had an open mind toward new opportunities. He managed apartment buildings, started a construction company, started a steel company, was involved in international trade, and most recently started a micromachining company, Atometrics, to manufacture highly accurate milling machines.

When I was considering career opportunities, I always knew I would be involved in science and technology. As an engineer, my father was quite adamant. He wanted me to enter medicine, but when I got to college, I realized there were opportunities in science outside of medicine. I received a Doctorate in Organic Chemistry from M.I.T.

After graduate school, I started work at 3M developing heat processed color films for computer graphics and medical applications. The product was a great success but unfortunately the business I was working in had no follow-up product and my position was eliminated. I moved on to Creative Memories as Director of Technology and was able to develop a digital business to help the company transition to the new world of digital photography. Creative Memories eventually ran into financial trouble, declaring bankruptcy twice.

I found a position with HID Global, and here’s where the influence of my father comes full circle. The position I applied for was as Principal Advanced Research Engineer. I wasn’t worried since I had a father who was an engineer, so without an engineering degree, I became an engineer responsible for developing new printers for IDs, credit cards and driver licenses. This is where I am now.

Today, I would like to thank my father for helping me develop an interest in science and technology, as well as for the flexibility to approach new opportunities as they became available. I would also like to let him know that despite my best effort to pursue other careers, I did become an engineer.

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The Problem with Flattened PDF Files and Text

ISOTC42 WG5 Brochure_20200423_8

ISO TC42 WG5 Brochure

PDF files are incredibly useful. They are used for everything from industrial production of photo products to archiving digital files for preservation. The problem is not all PDF files are created equal.

Text, in particular, relies on sharp, high-contrast edges for clarity. Problems begin when text is merged with image files. When it is merged, the screening algorithms that attempt to accurately reproduce colors introduce fuzziness to the text.

I ran into this problem when I used Forever’s Artisan to create a brochure for an upcoming meeting. I was not pleased with print quality and wanted a higher quality file.

There is nothing unique about a brochure. The same problem will happen with photo books, card, and other products. Any time, Artisan saves text, it combines the text with the background, potentially reducing image quality.

I used a little trickery to resolve my problem. Initially, I tried to recreate the file in Photoshop, but I did not have the skills to do so effectively. Photoshop is a difficult program to master.

PDF Comparison

Comparison between flattened PDF (left) and layered PDF (right).

Eventually, I came upon a solution. I imported the flattened file into Adobe Acrobat and used Acrobat to extract the text, essentially reversing the process that Artisan had used to  create my original file. As a bonus, text extraction significantly reduced my file size, taking a 3.3 MB file and reducing it to 512 K with no apparent loss of image quality.

I have emailed my suggestion for an option that avoids flattening text to Forever. I am hopeful that they will take action to improve Artisan. This option would have the added benefit in that text could be searched for specific words using standard search programs.

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Effective Photo Editing

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I’m three photo books behind and everybody want the photos from my last vacation. The problem is that photo editing is tedious and I don’t like to distribute photos until I have had a chance to go through them and correct any problems. Fortunately, I have found at least a partial solution to my problems.

The key to efficient photo editing is batch processing. Batch processing avoids the need to manually edit each photo.  PhotoEQ from SoftColor provides this capability. It will literally go through thousands of photos and correct exposure and color. It’s not perfect but it eliminates at least 90% of the work of photo editing. Best of all, it’s free for ten days and only $69 if you decide to purchase it.

In my non-scientific test, I found that PhotoEQ took about two hours to process 1070 photos, saving me countless hours of manual editing. With PhotoEQ, image processing takes place in the background so you are able to work on other projects while it completes its work.

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In general the default settings worked well, although I recommend changing the Dynamic Enhancer Shadows Style from Hard to Soft.

I also evaluated Perfectly Clear Complete from EyeQ but was not impressed with its batch processing capabilities.

Now if only somebody would come up with a way to have Artisan automatically batch create my photo books.

Note: I have previously recommended Image Enhancer because it had similar image editing capabilities, but this program is no longer available.

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Creative Memories Announces Memory Disposal Service

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Creative Memories has announced a new service, Memory Flush™, to help customers deal with unpleasant memories. In partnership with Kohler and American Standard, Memory Flush will safely dispose of failed relationships, former friends, and flawed family members. The new service combines a shredder and a toilet to ensure that these memories are never seen again.

According to Creative Memories President, Mark Lerud, “Our customers have too many memories. We have emphasized permanence and preservation far too long and have been too successful. Now we are going to help our customers destroy those memories.” The new service is not without risk given that customers have a limited number of memories to be destroyed; however according to Lerud, “The process will free up space to create more memories, which can then be destroyed, creating a  never-ending revenue cycle.”

As part of the new service, each Creative Memories Advisor will be equipped with a memory disposal unit. Customers will bring their photos, digital media, and physical objects to their advisor for disposal, with the waste transferred directly to the municipal sewer system. For advisors located in rural areas, Creative Memories will also be offering the memory septic system. The new service is expected to be available shortly.

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Will Amazon screw up Eero?

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I have previously written about Eero WiFi routers and how they resolved my WiFi problems. Eero eliminates WiFi dead zones and gives me control over who is using my WiFi network and when they are using it.

This week Eero is in the news. Amazon is acquiring Eero, and given some of Amazon’s business practices, I am not sure it is a good thing, at least not for consumers.

Amazon says they are not planning to change Eero’s privacy policy “at this time.” To me, that statement implies that they will change it in the future, and I highly doubt their changes will benefit consumers. Instead, Amazon is likely to integrate data from Eero with all the other data they have, further eroding consumer privacy.

Users of Amazon’s Alexa have already suffered from a host of privacy concerns, including recording of conversations and tracking consumer behavior. Amazon, like many other companies, has also lost control of customer data.

I hope I’m not the next victim.

 

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