by Bill Schiffner
2004 Digital Minilab Roundtable
It’s clear that digital is changing the way consumers
continue to view/process their images. As digital processing
becomes more affordable, photofinishers look to a variety of new
products and services they can offer their customers to grow their
businesses. Digital minilabs, self-service kiosks, print
fulfillment services and large-format inkjet printing, scanners and
workflow software are just some of the ways image processors are
diversifying to become more competitive and profitable.
Despite all the excitement that surrounds digital capture and output, there are some challenges for the industry for 2004. Today, consumers print dramatically fewer images from digital cameras than from film. The most often cited reason for this trend is the lack of knowledge of easy access to output solutions. In order to reverse this trend, it is imperative that we embrace and invest in digital technology and develop adequate retail output solutions for consumers. To help sort it all out and see where the industry stands on digital output as we usher in the new year, Photographic Processing brought in a panel of experts. Making up this year’s roundtable are: Harvey Phillips, VP of Marketing and Strategic Planning at Noritsu Corporation; Mike Fleming, product manager, Digital Lab Products, Photo Imaging Division, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc.; Mark Lawrence, director of marketing, Digital Portal Inc.; Dan Kinsley, VP Independent Retail Sales, Agfa Consumer Imaging; Todd Tereshkow, VP Technical Service & On Site Marketing for the Photo Imaging Division of Konica Minolta Photo Imaging U.S.A., Inc.; and Bernie Perrine, VP & GM, Worldwide Retail SPG (Strategic Product Group), Eastman Kodak Company.
What role do you see the digital minilab playing in the retail market in 2004?
Phillips: When the “digital” minilab was introduced a few years ago, most saw it as nothing more than a replacement for the D&P analog lab. However, a digital lab can make many more products than its forerunner, much of which sell for a premium price. This has resulted in a paradigm shift where customers are reinventing themselves and determining what product is right for their marketplace. It enables them to add services that were offered by reprographics businesses and digital imaging houses. These factors will continue to drive strong sales in 2004.
Fleming: In order to talk about what role digital minilabs will play in 2004, we should take a look at what their role has been in the last few years. There’s no question that digital minilabs have, in many ways, made the widespread adoption of digital camera developing possible. So, in 2004, we’ll continue to see machines like the Frontier leading that conversion. In addition, we expect to see some greatly improved functionalities and efficiencies in workflow management. Finally, it will be more essential than ever that retailers look at ways to integrate their kiosk solutions into high-volume labs.
Lawrence: Providing digital for your customers is a must for survival! With the changes we’ve seen in our market, with the challenges faced from home printing, with the decline in film rolls processed, if you own a minilab you must be in digital in 2004. With digital minilab prices more affordable than ever, the retailer has the ability to offer virtually any imaging service at a reasonable price with astonishing simplicity. 2004 also marks the end of a one-time tax break available to minilab purchases relating to the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.”
Kinsley: Consumers continue to want more choices, and today’s digital minilabs must allow retailers to fulfill the consumers’ desired product and service needs. It’s not just about delivering quality prints quickly any longer—it’s about increasing the types of products and services offered in a manner that meets the consumers’ changing lifestyles. Simply, it’s about giving consumers the choices that they want while providing a variety of different ways for the consumer to interface with the digital retailers. Agfa is committed to making effective and efficient products designed to meet those consumer expectations for our retailers.
Tereshkow: As the penetration of DSCs accelerates into the market in 2004, we strongly believe that retail will become the ultimate destination for printing. Average picture-taking consumers will come to accept the convenience and value that the retailer offers compared to home printing.
Perrine: It’s no secret that digital
minilabs are rapidly displacing optical equipment in traditional
photographic printing channels. Powerful software algorithms, such
as the Kodak Image Science in Kodak DLS Software, make better
prints from film than ever before.
As film volume declines, the additional capabilities of a digital minilab become even more important. Digital camera printing is growing at an amazing rate. But beyond that, digital minilabs offer other profitable products and services such as writing images to CD, uploading to the Internet, mixed-size print packages, and custom greeting cards and calendars. The ability to efficiently integrate all of these services with the traditional D&P workflow will be critical to justify the retailer’s long-term investment in a digital minilab.
Retailers must weigh those opportunities against other, less costly equipment solutions, such as kiosk and hybrid minilab solutions for digital camera printing.
What are some of the key improvements/ upgrades on your products for 2004?
In the digital world, it’s all about customization—both in the product you sell and who you sell to. To better meet our customers’ needs, we truly do offer equipment with an open architecture. We encourage use of third-party software as evidenced by our recent announcement of the Noritsu Hotfolder concept. We also recognize that networking is very important and we will be discussing a number of new options.
Fleming: Improved workflow is a priority for
all digital lab manufacturers. In 2004, we’ll focus on
Frontier Manager, a new solution to improve efficiencies and
overall printing productivity. Frontier Manager is actually a
custom solution, which allows print orders to be routed and
prioritized based on rules that the retailers set themselves.
In addition, at the 2004 PMA show, we’ll be introducing two new Frontier machines—the 355 and the 375—which offer state-of-the-art scanners that eliminate scratch and dust defects while continuing to provide high-volume efficiencies, easy-to-use interfaces and the overall print quality the market has come to expect from our labs.