COLUMNISTS - MINILAB 2001
APS: Happy 5th Birthday
Is The Photo Industry Blowing Out The Candles?
By Jerry Lansky
That consumer unveiling was preceded by a formal introduction of
the APS format to the trade at the 1996 PMA convention in Las Vegas
and a series of 3-4 columns I wrote even before that as pieces of
information about the super hush-hush APS project were seeping
through the security cracks.
To the G-5 and some 40+ licensees APS held great promise. To the on-site photo finishing industry it was a time of great stress and anguish as the pains of the disc film debacle had not yet healed. The introduction of APS had to be one of the most divisive events in my 20-year involvement in the minilab business.
On one side were the manufacturers who were betting countless millions of dollars of R&D that the consumer would leap at the advantages that they were being offered by the new format. On the other were the minilabbers, some of whom immediately embraced the concept, while the majority felt they were being forced into playing a game that they didn't want and couldn't afford. It was not a friendly scene.
That was then. This is now. What is the present condition of the APS format and where is it headed?
Let's look at a few of the statistics that give some part of the story.
In a report just published by PMA, U.S. sales of APS lens shutter cameras for 2000 totaled 2.7 million according to NPD Intelect, a leading collector of such data for the industry. This compares with 3.2 million in 1999 as reported in PMA Trends. This was the first decline in APS camera sales. By comparison, 35mm lens shutter sales for the year were 10.2 million, the fourth consecutive year of increase for that category, according to the same two sources. This calculates to 21% of lens shutter cameras sold were APS format. (Kodak tells me that their industry figures for APS camera sales in 1999 and 2000 were both about 3.6 million and indicated that the NPD Intelect figures were not as inclusive as was their own.)
Not so incidentally, the same reports show sales of digital still cameras almost doubled to 4.1 million units in 2000. Watch that number.
The cumulative share of rolls processed indicates that APS represented 7.1% of rolls process in 2000, up from 7% in 1999 and 4.8% in 1998. A slight increase here but a far cry from the industry's early prognostications. (This does not include APS rolls from single use cameras.)
I wish I had saved all of the pronouncements made by the chiefs of the day in 1996. It was not unusual to hear from on high someone proclaiming that within five years, that's now, APS would account for 20% of rolls processed; 25%; would you believe 30%? I vaguely recall one of the Agfa management from Germany suggesting at a PMA press affair that these folks were smoking dope and that it would probably be closer to 15%. Well, folks, here it is five years from the starting line and we're at 7.1%. Few executive bonuses were paid on this program.
As for the sales of APS film, Steve Hallowell, Kodak's VP and GM of the U.S. camera market, said that 13% of the film sold in the U.S. is APS. Probably due to the consumer's association with the Advantix name, Kodak must get the lion's share of that. (Just go into a mass store and ask for "a roll of APS film, please" and you'll see what I mean. Get ready for a blank stare.)
APS is certainly not a gloom and doom story - though it failed to meet the numbers that were being forecast by many folks. Some in the industry are still very bullish; some have gotten off the train; and some are still in denial.
Almost like it was five years ago.
No doubt the firm with the biggest stake in APS from Day One has been Kodak. And they continue to carry the banner. While some other camera firms are coasting or even pulling in the APS reins, the one new star in the APS sky is the Kodak Advantix Preview camera. This design allows a shooter to expose a frame on APS film and then view the image on a small screen on the back of the camera - not unlike a digital camera. A choice can be made at that time to either print or not print that frame, select the C, H or Pan format and indicate if multiple prints are to be made. The processing equipment automatically reads these instructions. Street price is about $299.
Kodak's Steve Hallowell said that Kodak was "very excited" by the reception to the Preview. He said that Kodak was spending more to advertise Preview than was spent all last year on APS - though he would not reveal the budget number. Advertising premiered on Hollywood's Oscar show and continues for seven weeks into May and June on TV and in magazines. "I think it has a great halo effect on APS in general."
Steve said that future Preview models would have full-roll preview (instead of only the last exposure preview), an e-mail feature and a fully-functioning 'digital' camera using APS film. "We are putting a lot of investment in Preview and are sharing the technology with others. We want it to be a category, not a Kodak thing. No, I am not aware of any other manufacturers that are planning a preview feature," were Steve's rapid fire responses to a few obvious questions regarding the Preview's future.
You can't write about cameras and APS without spotlighting the contribution that the Canon Elph has made to the APS world - and the camera world, in general. Their engineers went out of the box to design a new concept around the APS format and what started out as a single Elph model selling for about $300 is now a line-up of about eight models with prices beginning at about $75 for the Elph LT.