Physical photos like the ones in photo frames, scrapbooks and wedding albums are providing people with emotional support during COVID-19. According to a recent study by Fujifilm Instax, 60% of respondents in the United Kingdom are turning to physical photos instead of digital ones. The Dead Pixel Society, an on-line source of news and information for the photo industry, explains that 37% of the survey’s respondents cited a longing for “the good times” before the pandemic began. An even larger percentage (41%) said that COVID lockdowns have provided time for organizing keepsakes like physical photos.

Emotional Memory and Personal Resilience

Whether it’s to relieve memories or relieve social isolation, this embrace of physical photos is about more than “digital burnout”. These profound feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and depression result from spending too much time on-line. They are also exacerbated by the pandemic. Dr. Emma Hepburn, a psychologist cited in The Dead Pixel Society article, explains that “research suggests that recalling positive personal memories can help elicit positive emotion” and foster personal resilience. “Having these memories in physical form,” she continues, “can help create positive feelings on a daily basis when we see them.”   

Digital images can help, too, but the results are notably different. According to Dr. Hepburn, 43% of adults reported that their mood improved simply by looking at a physical photo. By contrast, only 12% said the same about digital images. What explains this gap between the digital and physical worlds? Perhaps it’s because sight is only one of the five human senses. Sound, smell, taste, and touch also explain how the human body receives sensory information. This includes sensations that are linked to emotional memory.        

Physical Photo Albums and Voice Technology

David Frohlich, a professor of Interaction Design at the University of Surrey in Britain, studies applications for print and sound and has developed a sound-playing photobook. The former HP Labs research scientist also has a patent on a “smell camera” but is passionate about “audiophotographs” – physical photos that play back sound. In a 2016 interview with Graphic Arts Magazine, Frohlich described various techniques for audiophotography. “People don’t know that they want it,” he said, but “if they see it, they like it”.

Recent market research supports Frohlich’s claim. Earlier this month, Yahoo Finance reported that the global photo printing and merchandising market enjoyed a 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2015 to 2020. Another study, reported in Business Wire, predicted that this market would register a 5% CAGR between 2020 and 2024. The market is fragmented but there is an opportunity for brands that can combine physical photos with voice technology. The secret is to evoke emotional memory in consumers.

Voice Recorders for Picture Frames and Photo Books

Yet, some of the audiophotography techniques that David Frohlich describes aren’t readily accessible. For example, consumers (and brands) may not have access to specialized printing techniques that can encode sounds on paper. What they can do, however, is as simple as using a Voice Express® Voice-Over® voice recorder to add sound to scrap books, wedding albums, and picture frames. These mini voice recorders let users capture customizable audio and then simply peel-and-stick for attachment.

Since 1997, Voice Express has produced over 60 million self-playing electronic media devices and been a leader in creating printed photos that support audio. We’ve launched successful pilot programs with Snapfish, a web-based photo sharing and photo printing service, and with Shutterlfy, a leading photography and photography products company.

This video shows Chad Munce of the Digital Imaging Association (DIMA) previewing a Voice Express audio-enhanced photo album that became a finalist in the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) Best of Photo Book Competition for 2010.T

This video shows how the Voice-Over® is recorded and applied to a standard photo frame.

Add the Power of Voice to Physical Photos

Thank you for engaging Voice Express. We enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct, unmediated fashion through self-playing media. Visit our website to learn more about our voice-enabled technologies and how we help brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Sony Music, Johnson & Johnson, as well as many others. We also invite you to read these recent articles about the power of voice.