Jan 31st 2014, 14:22, by Sarah Perez
Thanks to smartphones, digital photography has essentially become free – after the cost of the initial phone purchase, that is. You no longer have to buy bulbs or film or batteries to have access to an unlimited camera roll. You can snap photos at will, and store everything the cloud. But one thing that didn’t change with the times is the cost of printing out photos, which has remained stagnant over the years.
Today, a company called Flag wants to change that. It proposes a way for users to get free monthly prints of their iPhone photos, subsidized by placing advertisements on the back of each print.
Flag founder Samuel Agboola says it’s an idea that he’s had for some time, but one that before would have faced the proverbial “chicken and egg” problem. To get advertisers, you first need users. But to get the free prints to the users, you need the advertisers. Kickstarter helps to solve that problem by building up an audience that’s engaged enough to pay for the product before it launches, he says, proving to potential advertisers that the idea resonates.
And, of course, it also allows the Flag team to raise the funding they need to get their project off the ground.
Flag has a beautiful mobile app in the works that would allow consumers to access its service, but Agboola says the app’s development itself is not the challenge – it’s the infrastructure.
You see, Flag’s idea isn’t just photos with ads on the back. “Free photo printing is the hook,” says Agboola. “Our intention is to offer all the photo printing services you can get from any of the companies that exist today, we just intend to do it at a higher quality.”
For Flag, that means developing what it refers to on its Kickstarter page as a “photo finishing system ready for the 21st century.” This includes “museum quality (Giclée) printers, German 220 gram photo paper from sustainable sources, laser cutters, and robots with carbon fiber arms,” the company says.
“We believe the edge and the plus is by delivering quality that people aren’t used to, and standards they’re not used to,” explains Agboola.
For Flag, developing their own network and infrastructure means their business model wouldn’t be easy to clone by competitors, because of the costs associated with buying all the necessary equipment. And by investing in the printing infrastructure itself, Flag could bring down costs by reducing inefficiencies in the printing process, where today there is a lot that’s done manually, from packaging to mailing.
Having high quality equipment also means that Flag would be able to offer more than your standard set of photo prints. The company says it would be able to print square photos, rectangular ones, panoramas, enlargements, and offer rounded or custom borders, like those with scalloped edges or shaped like circles, shields, snowflakes or anything else.
Users could also print captions and their camera info (metadata) with their prints, turn them into postcards, and more.
The extra features Flag offered would be available for a fee, but the core product – the ad-supported 20 free photo prints per month – would remain free, says Agboola. While no ad deals have been signed at this point, Agboola says he’s been talking to some large companies.
The founder’s background in publishing, tech and as an independent consultant may give him an edge in getting those deals done. Though he’s beholden to NDA’s for some of what he’s worked on during his consulting years, his LinkedIn profile shows he’s interacted with large companies like HBO, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Microsoft, Starbucks, and more. These bigger brands are the kinds of companies Flag would need to reach in order to make their service happen.
There is some precedent for a service like this. Before its acquisition, Sincerely rolled out ad-supported photo postcards, which made them free for end users.
However, Flag would take the idea to a whole new level and scale. If it can raise the funds, that is.
Flag is on Kickstarter here, where it’s nearly halfway to its goal just a few days in.