The past year marked a reversal of fortunes in the calendar industry.
Traditional calendar makers, who have long dominated the market, are languishing, while customized calendar websites are thriving after years of struggling.
Declining business was evident at two major calendar wholesale markets in Guangdong””s provincial capital Guangzhou when China Daily visited in December, while customized printer Yofus.com””s staff worked overtime to fill the onslaught of orders.
Online personalized – printing services are blossoming after seven years of striving to take root, Yofus Digital Technology Co Ltd CEO Dong Zuming said.
Calendars printed with such images – of time with loved ones or a baby””s first smile – became popular New Year gifts in 2014, he said.
Near the year””s end, 2,229 services came up on a search for “2015 DIY personalized calendars” on China””s largest online shopping website, Taobao.
Customers can use online platforms to upload photos into templates, and then customized calendars are delivered to their doors.
Netizens can also instead use personalized printing sites like Yxp.163.com and Yofus.com.
DIY calendars typically cost between 20 yuan ($3.2) and 40 yuan.
Such sites also provide a range of personalized – printing products, including photo books, postcards, posters, puzzles, mugs and T – shirts.
Web – based photo – printing services originated in the United States with Shutterfly and Snapfish, both founded in 1999 to “turn digital snapshots into tangible things”.
Online personalized printing arrived in China around 2008.Many providers sprang up in the following three years. But it is only in the past two years that business has surged, Dong said.
“The rise is based on the development of printing technologies, DIY software, quality smartphone photography and mobile Internet,” Dong said.
Digital printing reduced the costs of printing small quantities. Creating stencils during the offset – printing era was expensive, he explained.
Improved smartphone – photo quality and mobile Internet have made DIY online printing easier, he said.
“More important are the trends in which people value uniqueness, and pursue and share happiness,” Dong said.
Yofus engages social networks by providing digital versions of DIY calendars users can easily share on WeChat, China””s biggest instant – messaging platform, and Sina Weibo, China””s answer to Twitter.
These versions contain links enabling followers to make their own or buy their friends””.
Exploring the ””blue sea””
China””s first e – commerce printing annual symposium was staged in 2013 – the year regarded as the beginning of the industry””s rapid growth.
“Internet – based personalized printing is still in its initial stage. The market growth requires more publicity,” Dong said.
“We need to change the idea that producing printed material is expensive and time – consuming, and requires big orders of several thousand copies. It can be quick and easy, and a single copy.”
Chen Wanwen used Yxp.163.com to make a desk calendar with photos of her travels with her boyfriend for his birthday.
“Work was busy, and I didn””t use the templates, so it took men early two months to select the photos and lay out each page,” the 28 – year – old public relations worker in Guangzhou said.
“But it was worth the time and effort because it””s unique. It may not be as fancy or expensive as a gift from a department store. But it””s a one – and – only present – one that belongs solely to us.”
It would have taken Chen minutes if she had used the templates once she selected photos, Dong said.
He said competition is “intense”.
“We must work hard to simplify procedures, design creative templates, and provide quality printing and fast delivery to stand out,” he said.
Yofus has been able to shorten printing and delivery time from seven to at most three days through its parent company Tianyi Digital Printing CoLtd””s printing network.
While printing companies ensure quality and delivery through their networks, such Web portals as Net Ease””s 163.com capitalize on their vast user bases.
This has helped the DIY personalized – photo products platform Yinxiangpai that Net Ease launched in 2007, Yinxiang pai””s head Wang Chen said.
“The users NetEase has accumulated over more than a decade enables it to promote our services through the 163.com portal and NetEase””s mail service and instant messaging tool,” he said.
“NetEase””s credibility as a strong Internet brand has won customers”” trust.”
Wang quoted NetEase CEO Ding Lei as declaring during Yinxiangpai””s launch that personalized printing is “an unexplored blue sea in e – commerce”.
Chinese printing portal Keyin.cn, which operates under the China Academy of Printing Technology, released a list of the country””s top 20 e – commerce printing websites in April 2014.
“We can expect more customized printing e – commerce platforms as social media and online – sharing technologies develop,” Keyin.cn””s report said.
“But now most such Chinese sites lack distinctive products. They””re too similar and all want to cover the ””complete”” range.”
Two sites were cited as examples in targeting niche markets.
Puffant.com focuses on postcards, while Weiyin.cc focuses on photo books with pictures and words users can publish on social media.
Yet, despite 2014””s development obstacles, online customized printing expects to do even better this year.