Time Factory will challenge Shutterfly, Flickr for Web photo market

July 27, 2009

An Indianapolis calendar publisher is flipping over to the Web in a big way, launching a site to compete with the likes of photo sharing and publishing sites Shutterfly and Flickr.

Time Factory Publishing, better known for churning out about 3 million calendars annually for NASCAR and other big nameplates, is launching Pikcal.com [pronounced pickle, as in the vegetable].

Visitors can upload personal photos to the site for storage and viewing by friends free of charge. They can also transfer them to personal networking sites such as Facebook.

Jim Purcell, Time Factory founder and CEO

As with the established competition, Pikcal.com wants users ultimately to pay it money to have those images put on custom-made posters, personalized calendars, greeting cards, school supplies and in photo books.

So what’s Pikcal’s claim to fame in an increasingly crowded market for photo sharing sites?

Chiefly, it’s that users can access and put into their personal creations professionally licensed images from NASCAR, Getty Images, Ford Motor Co. and country-living image site Susan Branch. Time Factory is tapping its relationship with those organizations, with which it’s worked for years in publishing calendars and other merchandise.

So a racing fan, for example, could order a calendar or greeting card sporting photos he took at the track—supplemented by shots taken at the same race by a professional photographer.

A teenager could make a notebook with his favorite Mustang on the cover. Or a family calendar could include photos of one’s children intermingled with images of similarly behaving primates from the Getty collection.

The Pikcal site has been designed to make it easier than competitors’ sites to transfer one’s images to increasingly popular social networking/social expression sites, said Jim Purcell, founder and CEO of Time Factory.

 “Pikcal eventually, hopefully, will be a global brand,” said Purcell.

Other than Web sites as an extension of conventional brick-and-mortar retailers, Central Indiana has relatively little in the way of Web companies directly targeting consumers. Among the more notable ones are Scott Jones’ ChaCha mobile search engine and locally based First Internet Bank.

Rather, the region’s IT forte is more in business-to-business tools via the Web or software. Jim Jay, president of the technology trade group Techpoint, said he recently tallied up nearly 70 such companies.

“It’s nice to see an Indiana company seek to compete in this digital marketplace,” said Michael Holmes, associate director of insight and research at Ball State University. “Every company that gets added to the mix helps with the critical mass” here.

Arguably, Pikcal is an extension of Time Factory’s online retailing except that it also seizes on the fast-growing social networking segment. “It’s that personalization that the Web enables you to do,” said Jay.

Purcell is keeping his revenue projections close to the vest for now.

As for his investment in the site, Purcell said it’s internal but is hard to quantify because costs have been minimized by reallocating his Time Factory staff to development. He will be getting a big bill from four of five European programmers who’ve been working on the site since February, but he wouldn’t divulge how much is owed.

The official launch was geared to the July 26 running of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Purcell’s team planned a promotional blitz.

Other than that, marketing is largely left to word-of-mouth. “We’re a small Indiana company. We are depending on word-of-mouth” as people use the site, he said.

“I think kids are going to be the lead on this. And NASCAR fans. They’ve never had this kind of access to professional photography. This wasn’t even possible six months ago.”

The NASCAR fan base may well be a big potential draw for Pikcal, said Holmes, noting professional images for personal use such as calendars aren’t easy to come by.

But that’s if fans become aware of the site, he added.

The entire landscape for photography related Web sites numbers about 1,300 sites, according to Hitwise, a New York-based company that tracks Web activity.

The two sites in this realm with the biggest market share are Photobucket, at 25 percent of all visits, and Flickr, at 18 percent.

“So you have two sites that are getting about 43 percent of all the photo [site] visits,” said Matt Tatham, spokesman for Hitwise.

One competitive advantage Purcell’s crew is trying to exploit is a database of sports team schedules that visitors can access and incorporate into calendars and other products they order.

“We went ahead and built this huge database of schedules. We’re starting with professional sports and most of the college sports [teams]. Eventually we’d like to trickle it down to high school sports as well.”

When orders start rolling in, calendars and other products will be printed by a firm in Iowa. Purcell plans to work with other printers around the country and beyond as demand grows to ensure speedy delivery to customers. Some competitors rely on a half-dozen printers in the United States.

Quick delivery is a competitive issue in a field that’s getting crowded. Shutterfly and Flickr already face competition from other firms, such as Hewlett Packard’s Snapfish.com, as well as from sites such as VistaPrint and from American Greetings.

Shutterfly also could see competition from social networking sites, “which could adversely impact the ability to capture and own the customer’s media,” writes analyst Mitchell Bartlett of Minneapolis investment firm Craig-Hallum, in a report on Shutterfly. Earlier this year, Shutterfly saw a decline in print orders but a big increase in photo-book demand.

Bartlett also noted the Shutterfly business model is “highly seasonal,” with a big portion of revenue generated during the fourth-quarter holiday season. It’s been worse lately, as discretionary spending in the consumer Internet sector is particularly recession-sensitive, he added.

One service Pikcal won’t offer, unlike Shutterfly and Snapfish, is selling photo prints. That’s a commodity business, whereas the money to be made is in making photo books, calendars and other products, Purcell said.

Purcell’s primary business, Time Factory, has about 35 full- and part-time employees and annual revenue of about $10 million.

The Duke University MBA graduate started the company here in 1996. It won Ford Motor Co.’s licensee of the year award in 2003 and is one of the largest suppliers of stationery products for NASCAR. Products are also distributed through big retailers such as Borders and Wal-Mart.

Time Factory made news last year when it erected the first wind turbine in Marion County in modern times. On windy days, the 125-foot-tall turbine can supply nearly all the company’s power needs.•



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