Some veteran Flickr users are calling for a rollback to the photo site's design days of yore, and the service has indeed offered up something suitable for the nostalgic—just maybe not what its critics wanted. What Flickr has rolled out are Photo Books, big glossy printed albums of, you guessed it, your Flickr photos.

Head of product Markus Spiering admits that Photo Books are a “very, very different approach” for Flickr, though he defends their appeal for casual users (think family photo albums) and pro users (think photo portfolios) alike. Either way, creating a Photo Book is dead simple and live on the site now.

Flickr’s built-in tools, accurately described as "light editing controls" pull out related colors that complement your image's palette, auto detect faces for the purpose of centering a print and can pull automatically from users' existing sets, creating an insta-portfolio, if you're not the editing sort. According to Flickr's press release:

Pick your favorite photo set, click on the Photo Book icon, and we’ll automatically turn it into a beautiful book for you. In almost no time, you can turn your photos into something memorable, that we’ll send it right to your doorstep (or to a lucky friend or family member.)
Our focus with Flickr Photo Books is to make it simple and intuitive to create a book that always looks great and is beautifully finished. From the handpicked full-bleed layouts, to the heavy stock photo Lustre paper and the image-based cover with matching dust jacket, we know you’re going to love your books. 

To its credit, Flickr’s emphasis on quality prints should offset some suspicion around the new product’s ease of use and casual appeal. (Why is it that a contingent of users gets up in arms any time a product becomes easier to use—ahem, better designed—anyway?)

Flickr Photo Books will start at $34.95 for 20 photos in glorious full resolution, and each additional page is 50 cents from there, up to a ceiling of 240 pages for $154.95. Photo Books print and ship within 5 to 7 business days, just in time for that oh-so-thoughtful last minute gift or impromptu impressive photo portfolio, ideally. Each page of a Photo Book sticks to one photo (no tacky iPhoto-esque collages here) and presents it on high quality lustre paper, with a full-color glossy photo printed over the cover and binding with a dust jacket to match.

Of course, the concept of big, printed books chock full of your memories has been around for a while now. Companies like Blurb and Snapfish have been at this for years. In fact, Flickr users could print their own pics previously through a partnership with Snapfish, and even pick them up at friendly neighborhood locations like Walgreens, Staples and Target. On Snapfish, a comparable 8" x 11" photo book with a “custom cover” is $29.99, though we’d put more stock in Flickr’s in-house eye for a high quality print. Blurb, another competitor, makes handsome 8" x 11" photo books for $31.99.

Photo books aren't exactly innovative, but they are something, even if that something is just cutting out the middleman to give casual photographers a one-step way to print a holiday album for grandma and grandpa. And for a stagnating service that hadn't made a pre-Yahoo peep in ages, any news is good news as far as I'm concerned.

Flickr users eager to see how the company’s recent technology acquisitions will integrate into the UI they know and love (or love to fake-hate) so well will have to hang in there a little while longer.

In the mean time, enjoy your new coffee table book.