© BEN EDWARDS
AsukaBook's NeoClassic book line
Wedding couples aren’t homogenous, and neither are wedding albums. Book vendors, recognizing the diverse preferences of couples and seizing on printing innovations, now sell a variety of products to showcase wedding images. Many companies also offer photographers design services and strong customer service. Mindy Charski spoke with six top providers—AsukaBook USA, Bay Photo Lab, Finao, IRISbook, PhotoBook Press and Renaissance Albums—about their competitive advantages and new products.
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It’s nearly impossible to not associate AsukaBook USA with wedding photography. After all, the albums that are manufactured by the Japanese firm Asukanet made their U.S. entrance at the hands of acclaimed wedding photographer Kevin Kubota, and AsukaBook is now a division of Kubota PhotoDesign.
“When [Asukanet] came to me in 2005 looking for a U.S. representative, I was immediately taken back by the quality and uniqueness of the books,” says Kubota, who retired from photographing weddings in 2011. “The company had a very solid reputation in Japan, and they wanted to introduce their product to U.S. professional photographers. I knew it was a great fit for my existing business model, which was to provide products to empower photographers.”
Indeed, in addition to receiving exceptional customer service from the AsukaBook team, clients can also seamlessly access other offerings from Kubota PhotoDesign like Red Boot Design, which provides custom album design and templates, and Kubota Image Tools, which offers Photoshop plug-ins and Lightroom presets.
Kubota remains an integral asset to the company. “He definitely guides us and gives us the direction because he has the [photographer’s] mind set,” says AsukaBook manager Kathryn Osborne.
As for the albums themselves, many wedding shooters are particularly drawn to AsukaBook’s NeoClassic book line, which the company says is a contemporary twist on the classic flush mount album.
In 2012 AsukaBook will introduce matte covers on most lines, including the popular NeoClassic. “People love our matte-finished page and they’re constantly asking if we can put it on the cover,” Osborne says. “True to our Japanese background, we made sure there was a lot of testing and that the matte would stand up to the test of time and so we’ve spent a lot of years on it.”
Bay Photo Lab
Santa Cruz, California
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Bay Photo Lab is owned by a surfer, staffed by a number of surfers, and is just two blocks from the beach. So it’s not that surprising that Sarah Bergeron, an assistant to owner Larry Abitbol, describes the company as “a laid back, artistic kind of place.”
For wedding and portrait photographers, who make up much of the clientele, this translates into multiple benefits. For one, Bay Photo Lab is happy to customize its products upon request. “If we can figure out how to make it, we’ll do it,” Bergeron says. “People call me all the time with, ‘Can you put the hinge on top and add this kind of material and do a weird stripe over on this side?’ and we do it.”
The company is also highly creative and cutting edge. “We’ve got the drive to always come up with new things and figure out better ways to do everything that we do,” she says.
Indeed, the company that was founded in 1976 does a lot. Bay Photo Lab can be a photographer’s one-stop shop since it sells much more than just albums and press printed books. For instance, a shooter can also send images to put into a wall-ready frame or on a canvas wrap, as well as on coordinated thank you cards, place settings and DVD cases.
Bay Photo Lab’s top album is the Pacific Album, which is a true flush mount that comes in a variety of sizes. It’s popular for its options—it offers metal covers, for example, full wrap photo covers and 48 mix-and-match cover materials—and the company will debut even more choices for the album in 2012.
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“The coolest thing about Finao is it’s an innovative company and the products are always unique and always cutting edge,” says Harold Jankowiak, a professional photographer who also handles Finao’s public relations and assists its clients with color issues and album design. “Finao finds the most unique materials with the best quality and we usually get exclusives on those materials.”
The company, for instance, offers more than 500 cover designs for its über customizable bestseller, the Finao ONE flush mount album. Choices include stripes, metals, acrylics, canvas and even dyed cowhides.
“The advantage from a photographer’s standpoint is I can deal with one company for all of my clients,” Jankowiak says. “If I have a conservative bride looking for a black leather album, I can give her a Finao book, and if I have another bride and she’s funky and crazy and wants fur on the cover of her book in a leopard pattern, I can give her that same book with a different cover.”
To help photographers and their clients narrow down the cover choices, Finao launched an iPad App called Finao Designer in July that enables shooters to mock up covers.
Another new addition, which debuted in October, is an inkjet book, the Finao artONE. The flush mount album has the same cover materials and options as the Finao ONE but features archival carbon-based inks printed on Hahnemühle German etching fine art paper.
“By printing on inkjet paper when you’re printing black and white, you get true black and true white,” Jankowiak says. “When you touch the book and you turn the pages you get this amazing tactile feel that sucks you in, and because the colors are absorbed into the paper a little bit, the colors take on this warm three-dimensional look.”
Finao manufacturers many of the albums it sells but is also the exclusive distributor of Seldex albums in the U.S. and Canada. Seldex makes Finao’s Gallery albums, Bookbound Art albums and boxes.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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“We’ve taken the press book and we’ve made it a timeless heirloom piece,” says William Ciccocioppo, who founded IRISbook about three years ago with his wife, Carolyn. “It’s a combination of simplicity and elegance that we haven’t seen out there.”
Indeed, the quest for albums with those characteristics was what first drove the Ciccocioppos into the album business. William, a professional photographer like his wife, was looking for an album to house wedding photos he had taken on the side for some art director clients. He couldn’t find a book he liked, so he worked with a local book binder and other vendors to create unique albums. They were an instant hit among friends who were wedding photographers. “That’s when the light bulb went off,” says William, who formerly shot advertising and editorial work. “My wife and I thought, “We might have something here.”
The business moved from a parents’ basement to a warehouse factory. IRISbook sources out handmade, marbled endpaper in colors like blue and plum. “Endpapers have always been an afterthought, but I want it to be like a presentation right from the beginning—you open it up and it’s like ‘wow’—and people love them,” William says.
In the spirit of simplicity, IRISbook offers only nine color options for its silk covers and six for its leather ones. Also, prices include the first 100 sides of every book. “There’s a flexibility there, and that’s one of the things we decided to do differently than our competitors as well,” he says.
Starting in 2012 clients will have layflat options in the IRIS luxe, IRIS soul, and IRIS pure product lines. Two new paper stocks will be available with the layflat books: satin and luster. The company also plans to debut a line of elegant children and maternity books.
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PhotoBook Press has always sold books that could be customized for weddings, but in October it launched a new collection in partnership with The Emily Post Institute specifically designed to appeal to brides and grooms.
“Their quality clearly shows them as a leader in their field the way that we are in ours, so that was very attractive,” says Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and a spokesperson for the Institute, which continues its namesake’s efforts to promote etiquette and civility.
Ed McConaghay, the company’s cofounder and publisher, adds, “The fact that a name as important as The Emily Post Institute recognized what we were doing and wanted to be partners is thrilling to us. We think it gives a new twist to how wedding books are perceived in the marketplace.”
The new line features two sizes: The Distinctive is 9 inches by 12 inches with 60 pages, and the Legendary is 10 inches by 10 inches with 72 pages. There is also a corresponding guest book measuring 10 inches by 8 inches with 36 pages.
The new albums, like others from the company, feature sewn signatures. Though the provider offers paperbacks and hardcovers with glued spines, its sewn signature books are the most popular. “This is an element to bookbinding that is the gold standard, and all of our books are archival, museum quality, and there really isn’t anything else in the market like the quality of our books,” says Christy Van House, who handles the company’s business development.
PhotoBook Press works not only with photographers, but also with couples directly. “[Photographers] can send the bride to us and we will hold their bride’s hand through the entire process,” Van House says. “Our customer service together with our quality are really the most important staples of our business.”
Port Chester, New York
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Renaissance Albums has kept its focus on producing high-quality albums while offering exceptional customer service since opening in 1988. The company prides itself on its hand craftsmanship, its lifetime guarantee on all products, and the relationships it builds with photographers.
“I like to say we make the best book in the industry but it’s also the people here that make us the best,” says Ken Liu, director of sales and marketing for the family-owned company.
Renaissance offers both stock and custom lines. Its matted Library Album, which has gilded edges, is its most popular stock album. “That’s sort of like the traditional book that everyone pictures as their mom’s wedding album,” Liu says.
But the custom side is the driving force of its business, and the top seller of that collection is the digital flush SoHo Book. It’s a contemporary coffee table album that attracts many photographers for its clean lines. “We try to keep it very modern, very sophisticated and very elegant,” Liu says. “I don’t think anyone else is able to replicate that with the kind of quality we put into the SoHo Book.”
In 2012 Renaissance will be offering new sizes and materials for the SoHo. It will also debut a spin off of the SoHo that will have thinner pages. Those albums, which the company has been working on for about three years, will have a lower price point than the SoHo but the same sturdiness.
“Based upon initial reaction from our big photographers, I think it’s going to be a huge success,” Liu says. “I think it’s got a lot of uses. It could be used for parent albums for the SoHo Book, could be used as a less expensive main book and for guest sign-in books.”