Flip Mino lets you pick a look for your video camera

ByJefferson Graham, USA TODAY
October 14, 2008, 10:28 PM

— -- I want it my way.

The Internet and advances in printing technology made it possible for consumers to design and order their own T-shirts, mugs, posters and books.

Tech giants Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard — even sneaker icon Keds — offer music players, shoes or computers with personally selected designs or colors.

Now you can personalize your video camera. This week, Pure Digital Technologies, which makes the popular Flip line of compact camcorders, unveiled a website (theflip.com) where you can design the case of its $179 Mino video camera.

The company offers more than 1,000 designs, as well as the ability to upload your own photos.

"This is a trend driven by young people not wanting to have the same thing as everyone else and manufacturers trying to put their own spin on that," says Ben Bajarin, an independent analyst at Creative Strategies.

That's why you see an explosion of multicolored and elaborately designed "skins" and cases at wireless-phone shops and Apple selling iPods in nine different colors.

Jonathan Kaplan, CEO of Pure Digital, says, "This generation wants to be famous, tell their story and be heard, change the color of their hair, wear tattoos and express themselves. It goes beyond the clothes and watch you wear and extends to the cellphone or camera you hold."

Kaplan says he got the idea for adding pictures and designs to the front of his cameras several years ago. He found a printer manufacturer last year in Japan willing to adapt its technology for the project.

For production, he partnered with CafePress, a website devoted to selling individually designed products — primarily T-shirts and coffee mugs.

"We're a destination for self-expression," says Amy Maniatis, vice president of marketing, calling CafePress a "me-tailer." The company has seen its sales increase 40% year to year.

"Skins were fun and a trend for the last few years, but they can get messy and peel off," Maniatis says. "We're printing directly on the camera. It's a high-gloss print, more strong and durable."

No additional cost is added to the Mino purchase to upload pictures of your kids or to make custom designs with graphics supplied by Pure Digital.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, thinks bringing personalization to the video camera market will help boost sales for Pure Digital.

The company, which launched the Flip in 2006, has sold 1.5 million cameras since and climbed into the No. 1 position on Amazon's video camera rankings.

Overall camcorder sales have been flat for the past few years, at about 3 million cameras yearly, according to market tracker NPD Group.

"The camcorder market has always been focused on moms and dads to take video of their kids," McQuivey says. "The Mino is targeted to teens, and that's smart. It's small, looks cool and fits in the pocket. Like HP did with computers and Apple with iPods, Pure Digital is leapfrogging right past that and letting young people completely design their device. That's something the youth market absolutely loves to do."

Paint your PC

Personalized choices abound on the Web. Starting at $500, Minnesota-based ColorWare (colorwarepc.com) will paint your PC a different color. It will paint your iPhone for $150 or alter the color on a big-screen high-definition TV set for $750.

"Direct sales has opened up the opportunity to order online and customize it on the spot, an opportunity you never had at retail," Bajarin says. "Consumers love this."

Zazzle, a website that competes with CafePress, began selling create-your-own Keds sneakers in July. It handles production and fulfillment for the shoe company.

"The crazier the design is, the better it sells," says Zazzle co-founder Jeff Beaver. Sales have exceeded expectations, he says, though he declined to cite specific statistics. "The variety of designs you wouldn't believe," he adds. "One woman uploaded a picture of her feet, so when she walks around in the Keds, it looks like she's walking barefoot."

Beaver believes most products eventually will be offered for personalization.

"The consumer has shown that if given the tools, they will make personalization part of the shopping process," he says.

READERS:What kinds of personalization features would you like for gadgets? Tell us what you'd put on what gadget in the forum below.

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