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Mixbook Debuts Montage, A Photo Book Builder Meant To Take Minutes, Not Hours

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When the seven-year old company Mixbook introduced a mobile app for making photo booksMosaic, last fall, the idea was to distill a process that had traditionally taken hours down to a matter of minutes. But in going mobile, there are some trade-offs in terms of losing the customizations permitted by Mixbook’s traditional service. Now to fill the gap in between the more complicated online photo book maker and the simplified, more automated mobile version, Mixbook is introducing a new photo book building service called Montage.

Unlike Mosaic, Montage is not (yet) a native mobile application. Instead, the service offers a web-based interface which is a rethinking of how photo books can be built online using well-designed, streamlined tools. While the company’s older online product suite may have been something that took users hours to work through, and Mosaic’s app takes just minutes, Montage falls somewhere in between – roughly 10 to 15 minutes is the estimated time it would take to use the new service to build a book, the company tells us.

“The photo book market is a three billion dollar market, but yet only ten percent of people in the U.S. have ever made a photo book here,” says Andrew Laffoon, Mixbook co-founder and CEO. The problem, he explains, is that people don’t have the time, which is something its Mosaic app, and now Montage, are hoping to solve. (I might argue that the nature of digital photos has more people distancing themselves from the idea of photo prints and photo print products altogether, but maybe that’s a thought for another day).

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Going forward, Mixbook’s online product will remain its “best of breed” experience, says Laffoon. Meanwhile, Montage has been built as a quicker, web-based alternative that takes advantage of computer vision technologies to smartly group photos together, in order to speed up the photo book creation process.

That means Montage knows not only things like the date, time and location of the photo, but can also tell if a photo is any good (is it blurry?, dark?, etc.) and which photos go together, as determined by chronology, location, subjects, composition and more. And if you have a handful of similar photos, Montage will be able to pick the “best” photo from the group, too.

The technology in conjunction with the design help to shave time off the photo book creation process, without entirely automating the experience, or eliminating so many of the choices surrounding themes and layouts.

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The service will offer a dozen layouts at launch, and will allow users to choose between three differently sized, leather-bound books with layflat pages starting at $39 (6-inch), then going up to $59 (8.5-inch) and $119 (12-inch). That’s roughly in line with Shutterfly’s pricing, though its complex set of customization options and ongoing promotions don’t make for an easy comparison. (E.g. currently, a 8×11 hardbound, layflat book on Shutterfly starts at $71.99, but goes up as you select different options. For leather, it’s $129.99. But these are sale prices.)

Montage books can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages, all included in the price. That is, unlike Shutterfly, the company is not charging a fee for additional pages over a certain, pre-allotted amount.

Laffoon says that because Mixbook is already operating at scale, it’s able to keep prices lower. The company has “millions” of users, sees margins north of 50% on its products, and, while Laffoon wouldn’t discuss revenue details, he alluded to 23snaps’ recent revenue reveal, noting that Mixbook’s Mosaic app makes more in a week than 23snaps does in a year ($80K). (Mixbook’s annual revenue, however, is public, says a company rep – it was $25 million in 2012).

In addition, because Montage’s platform has been built using modern web technologies, it will work on a range of devices, not just PCs. However, the company will not have a native mobile or tablet version in app format before the end of the year.

The company is gearing up now to release Montage to the public before the holidays, and is beginning to send out invites now on a first-come, first-serve basis before a larger, official launch. Those who sign up here will get their invite in a couple of weeks, if not sooner, as the service begins to open up more broadly.