The Future of Digital Photography - It's the Prints,
by Dan Havlik
Officials from some of the imaging industry's leading manufacturers looked into their crystal balls at the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association (PMDA) meeting last month and saw similar visions of an ideal future: a digital camera system that's not only easy to use for taking pictures, but that's easy to use for making prints at retail.
"Most people hit that first wall last year, where they said: 'I can't get my pictures out of my camera. How do I do that?' This year, 2002, printing is the bottleneck," said Nancy Carr, vice president, Worldwide Marketing with Kodak's Digital & Applied Imaging business.
Carr was one of four industry officials to take part in a panel discussion entitled "The Future of Digital Photography" at PMDA's April meeting in New York City. While the panelists represented different manufacturers- Jerry Grossman for Nikon, Martin Lee for Olympus America, Tom Cufari for Fuji, and Carr for Kodak—their message was pretty much the same: if you make digital photography and printing simple for the consumer and the photo retailer, they will come.
"Our success relies on the industry collectively focusing on delivering an experience that follows the lessons we so vividly learned from consumers about film: Make it simple," Carr noted.
But along with agreeing on the notion that simplicity was the key, the panelists seemed to concur on a far more distressing point for photo specialty retailers-when it comes to printing digital at retail, consumers just aren't on board yet.
The figure that perhaps stood out most in the four, statistic-laden PowerPoint presentations from Carr, Grossman, Lee and Cufari, concerned what happens to digital images once they're captured. According to industry statistics, less than 20 percent of the over 30 billion digital images captured annually are actually printed.
Cufari, who serves as Fuji Photo Film U.S.A.'s vice president of Digital Marketing, drove the point home further in noting that while 85 percent of digital camera users print their pictures, only a paltry three percent print them at retail. (According to an InfoTrends Research Group study commissioned by FujiFilm, with multiple printing choices allowed, 96 percent of digital camera users print their digital images at home, eight percent print at work, five percent at on-line sites and three at retail.)
"Ten years ago in 1992, George Bush Sr., learned a very difficult lesson: 'It's the economy, stupid.' To paraphrase that, I think, it's the prints, stupid," Cufari said.
"If we don't continue allowing our customers (photo retailers) to make prints from digital cameras, as well as from film, they won't have the profitability to purchase our products and continue on in this industry."
Like Carr in her speech and-to some extent-in Grossman's and Lee's presentations before his, Cufari called on the industry to come up with solutions to make it easier to print digital images at retail.
"We all have to take ownership in making sure our customers (photo retailers)...have systems in place to print from digital cameras as easily as from film cameras," he said.(Left to Right) Tom Cufari, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc.; Jerry Grossman, Nikon Inc.; PMDA President Alan Kessler, Phoenix Corporation of America; Nancy Carr, Eastman Kodak Company; and Martin Lee, Olympus America Inc.
-Photo by Greg Burson
Before his speech, Cufari made note of the overlap in the presentations that night, joking: "I would like to thank Nancy (Carr) for giving my speech." The crack brought laughter from the audience, but also underscored the seriousness and urgency of the message. "There's been a recurring theme to all these speakers," Cufari said. "We have a problem now and an opportunity now that must be addressed and we must move forward on. The future really is now."
That sentiment also seemed to be on the minds of many in the audience, a collection of photo retailers, industry consultants and manufacturers. While agreeing with the panel's overall message, some audience members grumbled about the solutions offered by panelists or, more precisely, the lack thereof.