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Web Watch by Leslie Walker

Photo Sites Put a Sharper Focus on Prices, Products

By Leslie Walker
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page F07

Internet photo sites are scrambling to exploit the digital camera boom with new products and -- in some cases -- lower prices.

PhotoWorks (www.photoworks.com) became the latest site to cut its rates last week, announcing a new fee of 19 cents for 4-by-6 prints made from digital camera images, the same price charged by rivals Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) and ImageStation (www.imagestation.com). Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) and Kodak's Ofoto (www.ofoto.com), meanwhile, still list rates of 29 cents for a 4-by-6 print -- although an Ofoto sale cuts that to 22 cents.

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Just two years ago, prints from digital images typically cost 50 cents or more. But as order volumes ramped up thanks to skyrocketing sales of digital cameras, Web sites have been slashing prices and rolling out new ways for customers to put their photos to use, from personalized pet collars to custom hardcover books.

"We dropped the price on our prints to compete with home printing," said Philippe Sanchez, chief executive of PhotoWorks Inc., the company formerly known as Seattle FilmWorks.

PhotoWorks also jumped into the custom photo book market last week, introducing the first of three planned types of coffee-table photo books, starting at $30 apiece for 20 pages of photos. PhotoWorks said it will introduce two fancier book lines in a few weeks at higher prices.

Two weeks ago, the company that pioneered custom photo books, MyPublisher Inc. (www.mypublisher.com), slashed prices on its standard 20-page book from $30 to $19.80, making it the price leader on hardcover books. The company also announced last week that starting Nov. 2, it will offer a super-sized book -- 12 inches by 16 inches -- with 20 pages of heavy-duty paper for $60.

"These cost the same or less than individual prints, but are better than prints because you get the book packaging thrown in as well," said Carl Navarre, chief executive of MyPublisher.

All of these sites let customers arrange their own photos and captions in their choice of page layout and design. They have become a popular item on Web photo services this year, as leading sites hurried to add their own versions. Snapfish added hardback books in March; Shutterfly followed in June; Ofoto released a line in July. MyPublisher has offered custom books for several years. Most charge roughly $30 for a 20-page book, with prices ranging from $1 to $2 apiece for additional pages.

Most of the sites said they are planning additional price discounts for the holidays. Shutterfly is already offering 20 percent off books, calendars and greeting cards, and ImageStation (owned by Sony) has hardbound books on sale for $22.49. Many also offer cheaper paperback photo books.

Free Flicks From AOL

America Online Inc. is offering broadband subscribers free downloads of 10 classic movies and 99-cent downloads of five newer flicks. It's part of AOL's effort to sell itself as a useful add-on service for people who buy high-speed Internet access from other providers. The movie downloads come through a partnership with MovieLink, the joint venture created by major movie studios. Customers can store their film downloads for 30 days on their Windows computers, but can view them for only 24 hours after pressing the "play" button. AOL said its deal with MovieLink will last for the next 12 months, with five new free and five new 99-cent titles made available monthly.

E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.


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