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Infoimaging Offers New Solutions and Drives Output of Digital Images

Infoimaging Offers New Solutions and Drives Output of Digital Images

by Bill Schiffner

Last month, I had the opportunity to sit in on the findings of a interesting two-year study that examined consumers' preferences for ordering prints of images captured by digital cameras. Issued by Fujifilm and InfoTrends Research Group, the study offered results on consumer digital camera printing preferences, indicating the tremendous potential for digital camera developing at retail. The study also tracked printing, storage and kiosk usage and preferences of digital camera owners as well as those planning to purchase a digital camera within a year, and compares these 2002 findings with those of August 2001.

The study found that digital camera usage continues to grow rapidly among "wired" households - jumping from 23 percent in August 2001 to 31 percent in September 2002. Projections show that by the end of 2003, 47 percent of Internet households could own a digital camera. As sales of digital cameras rise, significant demographic shifts are taking place. For example, 71 percent of qualified participants were women - up 20 percent from last year. As well, participants were increasingly younger and less affluent than in the August 2001 study.

The study also found that there is greater recognition of the benefits of digital camera developing at retail and a continued interest by digital camera owners and would-be owners to use kiosks as a means to get prints from their digital camera. More consumers than ever before are open to printing at retail and, in fact, would prefer to do so. An increasing number of digital camera users are visiting their local retailer to get prints. However, the majority of digital camera owners - 61 percent - do not know if their local film processing location offers digital camera developing services. That's not good news for retailers. Obviously, more education needs to be done at the retail counter to change those numbers.

On the flipside, the popularity and awareness of online photofinishing services continue to rise. A recent Associated Press article reported that traffic to top photofinishing sites - Ofoto, Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc. - has doubled over the past year, drawing in roughly 12 percent of all U.S. Internet users. Although many online photofinishers are predicted to reach profitability in the near future, opinions vary on how they will be able to convince customers to use print services regularly.

So how does this all tie into infoimaging? Ironically, infoimaging - an industry created by the convergence of imaging and information technology - is what got us to this point in the first place. The growing popularity of digital cameras, the rise of the Internet, and the ubiquity of information technology has made it possible for consumers to digitally capture images and share them in innumerable ways. Before infoimaging, it wasn't possible to e-mail photos, store them online, edit them on a PC, print them at local retailers, and so on.

The power of infoimaging will open the doors to new businesses for photofinishers as the industry helps consumers connect their digital cameras to infrastructure such as the Internet in order to generate media and services such as photographic prints and online albums. This innovation will become even more powerful with the ongoing education of consumers about the photofinishing options available to them.
And that's good news for retailers.

Here's a quick look at three infoimaging solutions - the Common Picture eXchange Environment (CPXe), photo kiosks, and online photofinishing - that are helping to address the need to make it easier for consumers to order prints of their digital images. These are just three of the more visible solutions in the industry, and this is likely just the beginning of innovation in this area. Undoubtedly, infoimaging will continue to create new solutions and advancements that aren't even thinkable today.

The CPXe Solution
Currently in development, the CPXe initiative aims to boost digital printing by making it as easy for consumers to get prints of digital images as it is to get prints from film. CPXe is supported by imaging heavyweights such as Fujifilm, Kodak and Hewlett-Packard and is led by the International Imaging Industry Association (I3A). CPXe's Web-based standards will enable the seamless transmission, ordering and printing of digital images between digital cameras, personal computers, desktop software, Internet services, photo kiosks and retail and wholesale photofinishing providers.

When CPXe is implemented, consumers will be able to order prints of digital images from home and pick up the prints at a nearby retail location. CPXe also will make it easier for consumers to order prints of digital images at a photo kiosk, through an online service provider, or at a photo retailer's store - regardless of the brand of digital camera or the manufacturer of the photofinishing equipment. Once the photofinisher has the digital images in hand, those images can be processed and printed using on-site equipment or by sending the images to a wholesale lab. In other words, CPXe is like C-41 for digital photofinishing.

But CPXe doesn't just help photofinishers tap into the output potential of digital imaging. It also will benefit photofinishers looking to capitalize on the Internet across their businesses. For example, CPXe will support multi-channel and e-commerce initiatives by driving traffic to retail or photofinishing locations through online channels, allowing them to cross-sell and offer promotions that create new revenue opportunities.

One additional thought before we move on to kiosks: CPXe is not some far-off-into-the-future concept. It's actually being implemented. In fact, the CPXe backers will make some important announcements at PMA 2003 in Las Vegas, illustrating that the initiative is well on its way to reality.

Kiosks Are Gaining in Popularity
Kiosks are quickly becoming a popular way for consumers to order prints. Consumers like kiosks because of their step-by-step instructions and user-friendly interface. Consumers are also drawn to kiosks because they are often located in large retail stores where they are used to dropping off their film for processing. In fact, a recent report by Imerge Consulting Group LLC says that digital kiosks could be a $15 billion to $20 billion market in the United States by 2006.

The next step will be for kiosks to make their way outside of retail locations - in theme parks, sports venues, tourist spots and other locations. Similar to the penetration experienced with ATMs, many envision that kiosks will go beyond the photo marketplace and offer consumers a variety of services and products. And when kiosks are CPXe-enabled, consumers will be able to transfer images from their cameras to the kiosk and upload those images to a website or a photofinisher or e-mail them to friends, regardless of camera type or kiosk maker. That's pretty powerful stuff.

Online Photofinishing
Lastly, I want to touch on increasing output from online photofinishing. I believe the key here for web photofinishers is to continue to make their sites inviting, user-friendly and output-orientated. While consumers love storage and sharing options, at this point, the real money is made in making prints. Clearly, e-commerce is on the rise - this past holiday season saw a spike in online shopping. Therefore, consumers are becoming more comfortable with buying goods via the Internet. This will be good for online photofinishers. And, again, CPXe will have a huge impact on the future of online photofinishing.

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