Minnesota-based Lifetouch, which employs thousands of photographers to produce student portraits and high school annuals nationwide, had a lot of explaining to do this week after it sent a very strange shipment of yearbooks to one Dallas-area high school.
How strange? As the Dallas Morning News  reported:
Imagine posing for a yearbook photo and ending up with someone else’s body – or looking nude – in the final product … Some girls’ heads ended up on boys’ bodies, and vice versa. Some necks were stretched, and some outfits were altered … One girl’s arm is missing … Multiple students have the same body and clothes. Some shirt colors were changed, while patterns and wording on other shirts were wiped out. At least 34 students had someone else’s body.
Lifetouch babbled disingenuously about “misinterpreting” the school’s “guidelines” in its initial attempt at damage control. But after company VP John Bryant met with school officials this week, the company came clean. Apparently, Lifetouch employees engaged in the Photoshop mangling in a clumsy attempt to cover for another screw-up. According to Bryant :
…images that were being worked on became cropped and were saved at a high resolution. The photos were then altered once it was realized that it was too late to resize them. Pictures were cropped because the initial photography had not followed the industry standard of shooting all photographs the same size.
Such Keystone Cops shenanigans are surely not the image Lifetouch wants to project — especially now. Because Lifetouch’s business model faces upheaval in the form of a Web 2.0 upstart called Picateers .
As VentureBeat  reports:
School photos are a pretty big racket with an old-style approach to doing business. Parents have never been that happy paying exhorbitant prices to companies such as Lifetouch … Larry Jacobs, a former manager at Oracle and IBM … founded Picateers to let parents take over the school-picture program. Jacobs finds volunteers among parents to shoot the pictures of kids. They then upload them to the Picateers site, where parents can view the shots and select the ones they want to buy.
Then Picateers delivers the pictures to them for about the same cost as what Lifetouch charges … But the powerful part of this Web 2.0 approach is that PIcateers gives back half the proceeds to the schools. Lifetouch … can’t give more than 15 percent because of its overhead…
The company launched a beta program last August and is doing a full rollout this coming August. Now there are more than 300 schools, from preschools to high schools, participating in the program … There is plenty of room for growth. The Photo Marketing Association estimated last year that 22.7 million households bought school portraits in 2006.
With this kind of challenge afoot, Lifetouch CEO Paul Harmel better have a good head on his shoulders. Preferably, his own head.