March 28, 2005
Middleman H-P Acquires Snapfish
Posted by Christine Hurt

As the official historian of the Hurt/Stancil family, I take a lot of photos with a digital camera.  For about 2 1/2 years, I've been uploading my pictures to Shutterfly, where they are printed and shipped to my door.  I could drive to Walgreen's (more expensive) or Sam's (less expensive), but I like cutting out the middleman and not leaving my house.  I can also upload and order pictures from any computer.  The other online services are Kodak EasyShare (Ofoto) and Snapfish.  My sister-in-law uses Snapfish, so I have registered on that site to view her pictures.  So, Friday I received an email from Snapfish telling me that Hewlitt-Packard is acquiring Snapfish, your basic technology start-up.  (Congratulations!)

Today in the WSJ, an article explains that H-P really thinks people would prefer to print out their pictures using their own equipment at home.  I say no. 

The hassle of having a stock of expensive photo paper and color ink and the time involved is not attractive to me.  But, H-P has acquired a service that seems to be competing with that at-home printing notion and may have plans to use the service as a platform for at-home printing.  Don't have an expensive editing program?  No problem.  Upload your pictures at Snapfish, edit, then print at home.  The email suggests this may be the case:

You can look forward to a host of exciting new features and services, designed to make your digital photography experience even better and easier - whether you print with Snapfish or through your home printer.

The market for online photography services has interesting characteristics.  Being a member at one or other creates some path dependence.  If I have two years of photos uploaded on one site, I may not be keen on switching to another site and having my archives scattered in that way.  I don't keep an electronic copy on my own computer, although I order an archive CD every 6 months to ensure against the site going bankrupt or failing somehow.  I'm not sure that there are true network effects, however.  My sister-in-law and I don't have to be on the same site in order for each of us to share photos with one another, as long as we register at both sites.  However, it is slightly easier for me to buy prints of pictures that my best friend sends to me that are on Shutterfly because I already have an account set up there.

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