Unfiltered Growth: Instagram Sparks Photo Start-Up Boom

Jefferson Graham, USA Today
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Instagram, the wildly popular 2-year-old photo app snapped up by Facebook for $1 billion earlier this year, has a lot of friends online. Dozens of companies have climbed aboard the Instagram bandwagon to sell photo-related gifts.

Go to Printstagram, Casetagram or StickyGram to get prints, posters, Apple iPhone cases and stickers based on your Instagram photos. Stitchtagram will make a pillow from your Instagram smartphone images for $64. Even the No. 1 online photo retailer, Shutterfly, began offering in June the ability to make photobooks from Instagram photos.

Instagram has 80 million members, and millions of photos are uploaded monthly. "It's a never-ending fountain of free content," says Chris Silva, an analyst at Altimeter Group. "If I'm doing anything graphically based, I'd be foolish to pass this up."

Adrian Salamunovic, whose Canada-based company Canvas Pop makes canvas prints from digital camera and smartphone images, originally began targeting Facebook users to make canvas prints from their images, but says Instagram produces many more orders.

"Even though Facebook has a billion users, we do 10 times more business with Instagram," he says. His theory: "Instagram is so simple and the focus is on photos, while Facebook is more of a status update."

Instagram, which declined to comment while its acquisition by Facebook closes, invited the Instagram wannabes with what's called an API, software tools that let developers create apps and websites with the look and feel of the original. Silva says he's never seen an app be so widely embraced this way.

With an API, "large and small organizations have gotten savvy about building a business on the backs of others," Silva says.

For Instagram, having these start-ups is only a plus. "The more I can do with my Instagram photos, the more likely I am to use Instagram," Silva says.

Printstagram, a unit of San Francisco-based Social Print Studio, has sold "tens of thousands" of Instagram photos on posters and other goods, co-founder George Sylvain says. He started out selling products based on Facebook products but ran into copyright issues with the huge social network when friends began making things from photos that weren't their own.

Instagram works for him, he says, because users take the time to crop their photos, add colored filters to enhance their look, and thus "are more likely" to print them.