The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Using AI to create photo books, with Kasper Rybak, Printbox

December 18, 2021 Gary Pageau/Kasper Rybak Season 2 Episode 60
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Using AI to create photo books, with Kasper Rybak, Printbox
Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Kasper Rybak, product owner, Printbox, about the development of Smart Creation, the company's AI-powered photobook software.  Rybak discusses how continuous customer feedback was instrumental in the development and on-going improvement of Smart Creation. He also shares some of the unexpected results from early adopters.

Printbox is an enterprise photo products software that allows companies to sell all types of personalized photo products online. It provides four online editors, AI-driven Smart Creation, as well as a Mobile App. Printbox equips the clients with built-in e-commerce, production, and product management modules, along with hosting and administration services.

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Erin Manning  
Welcome to the dead pixel society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.

Gary Pageau  
The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Photo Finale, and Advertek Printing. Hello again, and welcome to the Dead pixel society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by Kasper Ryback, the product owner of Smart Creation at Printbox. Kasper is coming to us from Krakow, Poland today. Hi, Casper. How are you doing?

Kasper Rybak  
Hi, Gary, I'm fine. Thank you. Happy to be here.

Gary Pageau  
Great to have you. So for the few people who aren't familiar with Printbox, can you just give us the 10,000 foot overview of the company and the markets you serve,

Kasper Rybak  
of course. So printing books is an enterprise for the products software provider, meaning that we are developing software solutions for online stores that sell photo gifts and for the prints. And our customers are able to define vast array of photo products. And in turn, consumers are able to interact with those products in one of our four editors, each one tailored to specific products for the product type need. And our main area of excellence is our photo books and photo albums to those most advanced for the product, the heart creating. And our goal is to to equate those stores with the tools to sell more for the products and to attract new customers. So printed system market since 2013. And we have customers in more than 50 countries. And last year last year, in 2020, more than 11 million projects were created in our editors.

Gary Pageau  
He talked about the four product categories before what what are those categories? One of them is clearly photo books. What are the other three sort of categories?

Kasper Rybak  
We have full editor types or editor? Well, yes, yes. So they are tailored to predict specific product types. So we have this advanced editor that lets you create really advanced for the products. So like for the groups, and we have this simpler Ditto. And that that's for like canvases or when you don't want to have all those controls, I would say. And the third one is product talk for those customers that are leaving in more in this professional market. And the third one is for prints because prints are quite different than those.

Gary Pageau  
Okay, so rather than have a one size fits all situation where to universal enter trying to accommodate all the products, you streamline your technology based on the types of users who are like we're going to get through that.

Kasper Rybak  
Yes, exactly. We will, we will their journey to be as easy as possible. But without costs of getting too much throw from them

Gary Pageau  
thinking of a journey, you've been on a journey to develop smart creation. Can you tell us what smart creation is in a little bit about the development process? And the technology used?

Kasper Rybak  
Yeah, sure. All of the smart creation thing started actually with print books, because our CEO knew that it is the future, you know, the photo books shouldn't take too much time to create, they should take time to enjoy, you know, not to reward all but we had to create all those other parts of our system, right to go from this point of okay, we have everything set up. And now go into this. Okay, so now, this big thing we will we will actually do stuff for you stuff that you didn't even know that we can have to make. That's what we wanted from the beginning. But it's actually it could happen only in last year in 2020.

Gary Pageau  
So it's a it's a technologies and artificial intelligence AI based technology for creating is it just photo books or is it for the other products as well? Is it do selling suggestive selling for the other product platforms categories?

Kasper Rybak  
Right now we are focusing only on photo books. But this was like a base case we wanted to solve and see how are how good we are at this. And in the future. We're not sure yet. Maybe Maybe we will go into other directions as well. Right now we want to really nail it with the photo books. And yeah, that that's what we are seeing

Gary Pageau  
that's really been one of the challenges with the entire photo book category for years is been the problem of getting people consumers to tell stories, when they may not have the ability themselves to tell a story, right, they may not have the right access, or assets, they may not have all the pictures, they may not know how to pick up better one picture by the another or do a page layout. And it's, you know, the abandonment rate at one time, I'm not sure what it is now. But you know, in the US, it was like 70% of photo books that were started were never finished. Clearly, that's something that needs to be addressed. Because people clearly want the product, they wouldn't have started in the first place. But it got to a point where it was either too hard to do, they didn't have the right assets. Or maybe it was just too expensive, right? Because that is part of the equation, which you guys don't control is the pricing. So how long has smart creation been in the market and what has been the initial reaction among your partners who have implemented

Kasper Rybak  
so we showed smart to do ward in October in 2020. So last year, and well, we had also do to get customers to enable the in on their stores. So it took a little bit of time. And we had first customer start in February. And later because we've done this rollout step by step because we wanted to see those numbers digging into the data. So we didn't want to be fluid by it. And we've made it step by step and observed. And so that, yeah, our hypothesis, main hypothesis was it was correct that we are able to shorten the time of photo creation. And the conversion at the same time went up for those users that used smart creation. So this was the whole my whole 2021 was to get the customers to enable the smart, they wanted to do it. But we wanted to do it in a proper manner to observe how end users are working with it. And whether we are where we want it to be

Gary Pageau  
right. I'm just curious how many customers have implemented smart creation just in a general sense and word in different countries? I'm just curious if you saw any regional differences in acceptance among consumers, I just because there is some wide variety of experiences among consumers over how they interact with you axes and, and interfaces and with photoproducts. Yes,

Kasper Rybak  
fortunately, as I said earlier, we have customers in more than 50 countries. So when we told about smart that we have something like that many of them just stood up and said, Okay, please don't don't. For us, and happily, those were customers from from different regions. So we were able to do it and observe Yes, there are differences between regions, they are not so obvious. In some regions, people tend to, you know, dive into this functionality and try it. And maybe the conversion didn't went up so much. And in another region, they were more hesitant to use it. But but when they use it, they were converted more easily. So yes, there are the differences. Actually, one thing wasn't a difference for for this whole like your what we serve is that my our main hypothesis of we will be able to shorten the time was correct. We dropped the average time user spent up active active design from four hours to two and a half hours. So we dropped like 30 40% of the time. And for me, for me it's really really important because like I am saving time for people you know, they are saving hours every day. Someone knows saved

Gary Pageau  
your platform. It works on mobile and on phones. What is the what is the process? Can you kind of I know we're in an audio medium now unfortunately we can't show it but you know is what does the A is due for the user doesn't select the pictures that suggest the layouts. What is the AI piece of it actually helping consumers with

Kasper Rybak  
the AI as artificial intelligence is helping us in this process of selecting pictures? Okay. And this, because you have this standout classical image processing algorithms that are quite good, because you know, they can detect those really bad pictures, really bad photos. But when you want to really look what's on those pictures, the is it? Is it the photo about people about my family? Or is it a landscape, you probably should use AI, we also use AI for detecting, like similar images. Because when you are making your photo group and you're taking those photos from a trip and made, like 10 shots of one view, because it was very nice, but you didn't know that you've made the correct photo in first place. So you made few shots, and you want one photo, because if you put like 10, or I don't know, five of those photos into the book, it won't be very good. Right? When you do it every time, they will probably be boring. You don't want to do that we use artificial intelligence to say, Okay, those photos are probably from one serious and you should be only one from that right from,

Gary Pageau  
that's interesting point. Because one of the challenges consumers have is, you know, back in the days of analog, which I remember, I'm not sure if you do, but it was it was for I grew up with film. So, you know, there was a cost to taking a picture. So you took a picture. And so people were kind of judicial and their usage of photography, because it's like, boy, this every time I press the button, it's gonna cost me a dime, or whatever it was, nowadays, they can shoot like crazy. And like you said, you, you're gonna take a picture of a tree, and you're going to take five or six pictures of the tree or try different angles, different exposures are going to filter the crap out of it. So what you're saying is you're kind of helping the consumer choose of those six or seven pictures of that tree, they're going to, it's going to help you select that one. What about the actual layout of the book, ders and more template based? Or is it driven by what the system knows about the pictures? Like DOES IT group similar pictures on the same page? Or, you know, that sort of thing?

Kasper Rybak  
Okay, so I see two questions. One is, whether we are template based, what we wanted to do is something for our customers, when we have customers that really invested in those themes in those templates, we wanted to enable those templates to shine with smart. So we wanted smart to be compatible with all those Reach, reach books, reading elements wise. So this is one thing, if you have those themes that we really like and enable smart on them smart will adapt itself to those templates, right. And for another customers that have really is focused on minimalistic designs and have like all black or all white oops, smart will also do the job for for for this customer. And the second part of this question is how we actually group photos? And this is a very, very nice question, because I really proud of what we've achieved here. Because we wanted to tell the stories, tell tell stories. So so that if you open up the smart photo book, you will be able to tell a story of, for example, someone else when I made a presentation about smiling in October 2020. And we used photos from from vacation of our CEO. And and I was able to tell story of his vacation, because those groups were so neatly placed from this point of view a you when we don't want to, for example, group them by colors, we could do that. But what we want to achieve in the first place is to heat story. And actually, if you place photos like that, when you're in one place and you're taking photos of this one place, it will kind of blended because you're for example if you're in forest, all those pictures will be in forest, too. That's that's something that came as a is something we maybe kind of aim for but but it really it really stands out. I'm just

Gary Pageau  
curious about how the books are looking now in terms of how do you get a sense, and I know you, it's difficult to gauge, do you get a sense of are the books using more pictures, fewer pictures, that sort of thing, what I'm thinking I learned, when you when you see a consumer make a photo book with their own picture, they tend to want to use everything. And they overwhelm the book, and then it gets, then all sudden, their little project takes, you know, instead of a 20 page book, they got a 40 page book. And that may be that may be what leads to abandonment, actually. So do you have any insight into that? Is there an ideal number for your CEOs vacation book? For example? Is there a sweet spot that AI is found his question? Well, he's

Kasper Rybak  
okay. So, this is something we are constantly evaluating. And for example, we are looking for how many, how many changes people are doing to the smart prepaid projects, right? To see whether we go into the right direction, right. But it's hard, because when you will speak to me, I will tend to have like, less photos, and maybe not so long book. But if you will talk to my wife. This is kinda hard to don't want to just take away this control from from a user, what you want to do is, and this is something we will focus in next month, is to give us a very, really fast lane into the project, so that he sees his photo in with the whole theme and how it feels. And this should be really instantaneous, and later, give him control to play with it, and said, okay, sorry, my wife told me that it needs to be longer, because there's too many for Sue went out, so. So I have to do make it easy for him to change what we've done and adjusted to his days.

Gary Pageau  
So I saw you're seeing people adjusting after the initial creation is done, the AI creation happens through or so adjusting. But even with that process, there's still saving an hour and a half. Yes. So yeah, even with the customization on the back end, where you're giving them maybe 80 to 90% of what they want. And then they're going to go back and dark around where they're probably, you know, change the background colors, or the add captions and who knows what else? They're still saving a lot of time.

Kasper Rybak  
Yes, exactly. Because when you start smart, it process your your photos and build your project, you are so much ahead of the standard path when you would do it manually. Because when you're doing manual, you have to take those photos and move them to the pages and groups and you think too, you have to think about grouping them. So then create this logical history, right? And then you need to play with the, with how they are arranged, if you want to, you know, take two or three trials and see what was best, but you have to do it like 40 times. So this is where your one hour went. Maybe you're still thinking, Okay, so maybe the other photo would be better, and you spend the other half. So this is this is where we are saving time. It's not that we're you know, minimize it to like, all our users are buying photo books after five time of you know, looking at the result, now they are customizing the project. And it's good because everyone wants something different. They want to have their family there, no style in it, not the one that was you know, procreated by by his machine, but their starting point is way.

Gary Pageau  
What's now jump to the partner side, you've had some partners implemented. And so you've had them kind of go through the process of I'm sure there's some trial and error in terms of how they talk to their customers that they have this new feature and everything else and what are some of the best practices you would suggest for partners to implement the smart creation type system.

Kasper Rybak  
I would really recommend testing viewed with users. So getting feedback is very important part because, for example, one of our customers forced his customers. So the end users to use smart, it was on this made small scale, we knew that it's not the main store. But still it was forced upon users. So some of them didn't really like it and, and wrote, please give me my standard way, what I'm used to right back because I don't want to learn new things I won't, I learned already. So there will be people like that. Yeah. And still, when we when we enabled smart when we enabled normal path, together with smart, they moved, of course, to the manual, manual path, but people that would still want to smart, they were also still using smart, okay, so this, this is something you should be aware of that you should listen to your customers and give them tools to send you feedback, I like it, I don't like it, i this will be working somehow, in other direction. Thanks to that you can, you can just send it also to us, we will be very grateful. And, and we will just improve it over time we want it as we see it as something that will be the future of the industry. We want to constantly improve it. So that in a year or two, we are way ahead.

Gary Pageau  
So you're not recommending doing all or nothing switch to smart creation that there should be a people can opt into the experience that they want to. But like you said, a lot of people will spend a lot of time learning the UI, they kind of have to tweak the way they want. They know where things are. And people a lot of people don't like change, especially I mean, they're not they're not in the business of learning UI and the they want to make a photo book for their family. So I totally understand it. So what you're, what you're saying is, don't do a just an automatic switch, because you may alienate some of your existing customers.

Kasper Rybak  
Exactly. And this is sometimes it's not about saying to them, okay, just do it, as you always do. And then 10 years from now, you will also be doing manual mode when when all the people know that smartconsole them time. What you want to do is hear them out, see what they have a problem with Waze and show them the benefits of smart so that they are aware, they don't have to use it. Like next time I'm doing photobook I will go with smart and nothing else. No, let them try. It will like few minutes of trial. And I'm back to my manual mode. I'm still convinced that I'm doing such a great job in in manual I spent, you know, a day or two of active design. ISO, I told you the average is four hours, but I saw people that were doing like eight days of active time on a project, right? So this is a real thing. And you want them to try to see the benefits, because maybe they will say okay, I'll use it. And I will start from there. And we will spend three hours instead of my normal eight. And we've just saved you five hours of your time.

Gary Pageau  
What has been the most interesting piece of feedback you've gotten either from a end user a consumer or from a partner?

Kasper Rybak  
That's nice question. Okay, suit suit. This will this one was was a pretty unexpected because some people were thinking that we so smart that we are taking much more things into consideration when grouping photos because they were so impressed by how they were grouped that they wrote to us what Mark does and how good it is. And we are very happy because of it because well, we were able to get this really good outcome of people saying, Wow, this grouping is really good without complicating things too much. Right? So that was a very nice thing because it was so detailed of what we are actually doing. And we've done like 1/5 of this.

Gary Pageau  
So they interpreted that you were doing more than what you were doing. Yes, but

Kasper Rybak  
this was great because they were very happy with the results. So is a win win situation.

Gary Pageau  
So you've had it in the marketplace for about a year. And it's been up during a pandemic, which is probably an inhibited travel and family activities, which are the normal genesis of photo books, which I guess if you're going to launch a new platform, it's not the worst time because you're not overwhelming, and then you can actually spend some time. So what do you see going forward in 2022, some of the enhancements you may want to involve, or some of the trends you may see, hopefully, as the world comes out of the pandemic, in 2022, or and beyond,

Kasper Rybak  
what we are focusing right now is what I told you earlier, is that this path to seeing my photos in a project, you know, in a complete project, to shorten the time to really be so easy, just give us your photos, and you will see your project, and then you can, you know, try to play with it. And we want to, to really nail this thing. And later we there is always this walk of constant improvement of of those all of those algorithms, selection, and book building. So this is something we will have to work on constantly. And one thing that is very important is right now, although we have smart on our responsive design, we so you can on mobile, enter the webpage and smart we'll work on this. But we need to look into the smart on apps on our mobile applications. Okay, that's what we would like also to, to see, because we know that the trend is into mobile, we are we are aware of it. But we also are aware that a big portion of photo booths have this really complex photo books are being created classically on the desktop or online.

Gary Pageau  
Yeah, cuz there's sort of this bifurcation in the photo book market where you have the very quick one image per page format, not a lot of design, there's usually the apps, right? And then there's the more complicated where you want to enter text and things. And yes, you can do that responsibly on a phone. And it's but it is more difficult. I think, you know, maybe younger people with smaller fingers, who are were born digital, and all that may may have may gravitate towards that. But so so I see what you're saying. So you're so you're not saying it's a one size fits all solution for that, but you're definitely gonna have to include it in your apps, right?

Kasper Rybak  
Yes, exactly. We want to see what should be moved to the to the application. Because as you said, a we don't see people creating a very complex project, and you know, manually customizing them on their mobile applications. And for example, when you are choosing photos right now, well, it's people that have had many photos on their mobile phones, but they are able to quickly, you know, select them, for example, right? And just Okay, so maybe the selection for now, is not a necessity, right? So those are the questions that are still, also exam is still ahead of us, but we will we will we want to dig into them.

Gary Pageau  
If someone's interested in learning more about smart creation and print box, where would they go for more information?

Kasper Rybak  
Well, the best way would be to get into the good print books.com our options side? And yeah, just contact us, you will find contact all the we will be happy to hear you if you have also if you have some ideas, how to make small creation better, and and make it easier for people to create photobooks you can you can contact me as well.

Gary Pageau  
It really sounds like you are very open to feedback. It's you've mentioned that several times is that a part of the company culture?

Kasper Rybak  
Yes, this is what we want to build in, build up. Because this is so crucial. If you're close to feedback, you can do things that are not impacting your customers and not impacting your users. You're making stuff that isn't really valuable. And we don't want to do that we want to know make the changes that we will see are changing how people how people are behaving. For example, this is the fun part. Right now there are some people that when they are thinking about creating photobooks they are thinking okay, I will have to make selection I will have to select my photos, you know, because that that's what they are used to then what they sow in, in the past, and you don't see them in your drop out read because they didn't even went to your store, because the whole idea of going through 2000 photos is too much for them, they will just okay, I'll just see those photos on my computer from time to time. And this never happens. So so this is the behavior we want to change, we want those people to suddenly know that, okay, I can go there, they will select fitness for me. And I will have this photo book with a history that I can show to my family and they will be happy to have the physical, the memories in physical form.

Gary Pageau  
Right. So the actual you just touch an interesting point, because we've always talked about the abandonment rate, you know, as an industry thing, but how many people never even start because they've they've maybe I've talked to a friend, the friend said, Here's let me I'm showing you this photo book in this beautiful and the first question they ask is, Well, how long does it take you to make? It's like, well, it took me four hours, and Melissa got enough time for that. So I think as the word gets out, that these AI tools are available across the industry, I think we will see an influx of people at least trying AI powered smart creation type platforms, because I think it will reduce the barrier to entry to a lot of people

Kasper Rybak  
exactly what we saw in 2020. During COVID People had time. And they for for like all almost all our customers numbers went up during during the first year of COVID because people still had pictures, but now they had time to to you know, move them to physical space. So this, this shows that we the the market is there, but you know, because we're living in the 21st century, no one has time to spend like days for procreating photo book, right. So we have to give them tools to share to make it happen.

Gary Pageau  
Exactly. Well thank you Kasper for your time. Appreciate it again, once again. Where do people go for more information?

Kasper Rybak  
Get print books.com That will be the best.

Gary Pageau  
Okay. And thank you so much and have a great holiday season and hope to see you sometime in 2022.

Kasper Rybak  
Thank you for having me.

Erin Manning  
Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Three more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www.thedeadpixelssociety.com

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