Maizhaopian Photo Shopping and Printing Site
Note: This page is here for historic purposes only. the Maizhaopian site is no longer in business.
Flickr recently added a feature to allow users to order prints of photos from their own collection or from any other collection with the right set of permissions. Chinese site Maizhaopian.com (which translates to: shopping for a picture) takes this concept and enhances it by offering a full framing and delivery of photos to your doorstep. At this point that doorstep needs to be in China, but hopefully they will take the concept worldwide in the near future.
Unlike Flickr and photo sharing sites that are essentially free repositories of photos from anyone with an account, Maizhaopian.com takes a more vetted approach. The site is closed to the average photographer, with current photo offerings hand-picked by company staff. This makes Maizhaopian a little like stock image sites like Corbis and Getty, who enlist qualified pros to shoot photos made available for licensing.
Limiting who submits photos is both a plus and minus. It creates a higher caliber set of photos to search, which is great for someone shopping for an artistic wall hanging. The downside is a limited playing field making the average individual unable to order a framed print from their recent trip to the Egyptian Pyramids. In the long run catering to both markets might look like a smart business move to compete against the many boutique outlets offering services like custom coffee table books made from the family vacation photos.
When purchasing an image for framing you get to select the image size, matting color and frame style from among all the available options on the site. There seem to be a few quirks with the preview mode at the moment, like not properly centering every image in the matte, but overall you get a good sense for what the shipped photo and frame will look like.
In addition to supporting the sale of photos in frames, the site also offers some familiar features for online photo sharing. Star ratings of your favorite images might influence other people's purchase decisions. Comments about photos can either give kudos or offer criticism of a photo depending on your taste.
Two things about the business model are particularly interesting. First, Maizhaopian.com is offering a revenue split with the photographers to create an incentive to list photos in the service. The company gives a larger cut to the photographer, although they didn't disclose the exact percentage. This provides incentive for photographers to promote the service as a place for people to buy framed images. Like a more traditional offline framing shop, most of the money is in the value-added service of framing and shipping images to the customer.
As a niche play, this seems like a no-brainer. At low volumes, one or two people could make a nice living printing and shipping photos throughout China. To scale the business to something wildly popular, the company will need partners in major economic centers on each continent in order to keep shipping costs at a reasonable level. There's also a major risk in entering a business that could get competition from something like a Yahoo backed Flickr at any time.