They Press The Button,
You Make The Bucks
By Don Sutherland
Our author tells us that the advantage
of a home printer is custom-made output, and the advantage of
digital minilabs is large numbers of prints in a short time.
Between the two, the author says, it's possible each of our readers
could expect a large number of custom-made versions of this
portrait in their mailboxes any day now. Is this a big sign of
progress, or what?
If history is a guide, 2002 should be the biggest year ever for digital photography. If history repeats, we should see the floodgates open for the mass digital market, with consumers pouring in by the gallon. If history is relived, we should hang onto our hats — 2002 is the year digital goes prime-time.
The history in question goes back to 1890. That's when an obscure but ambitious promoter named George Eastman coined a marketing phrase: "You press the button, we do the rest." Almost like haiku, those eight simple words spoke volumes — revolutionary volumes. No longer did the public have to worry about "photo finishing." Sure, they thought picture-taking great fun. But everything that followed was a chore. Who wants to stand in a dark room, generally alone, listening to the plumbing?
George Eastman's promise kept the fun of picture-taking, minus the chore. Could anything hold the mass market back? Nope. The wholesale lab changed photography evermore. More cameras, more consumables, more accessories and peripherals were sold to more people than ever in a self-generating, self-enlarging new market.
That's what we should see repeating in 2002. I say "see" because although obvious, the trend seemed oddly invisible to most of the industry before. It was well underway in 2001, was clearly foreseeable in 1999, was eminently predictable throughout most of the 90s. Despite all the excitement it should've aroused, it remained low-key almost everywhere.
Now you see it ...
Most quoted sources equate the coming popularity of digicams with economics. As mentioned here a few months ago, the 3x zoom-lens, high-resolution digicam is expected to equal film-camera sales when the pricing reaches the "sweet point" of $200-$250.
Well sure, that'll help a lot, and that point is expected by 2003 say the optimists, 2005 say the conservatives.
But even at those prices, it would be rash to expect digicam sales to equal film-camera sales, if digicams are a pain to live with. And unless you have some pressing requirement for digital originals as such - as pros and prosumers may — the hassles of digicams are easily more than they're worth.
Think of the promises that have been made to the mass market, and think of the ways they've been broken. Sure, you don't have to pay for film when you shoot digital. You simply have to pay for an expensive memory card, and you have to empty it before you can continue taking pictures.
Digital pictures don't become "free" until you've filled and emptied your memory card many times over. Until then, it's like paying for a few dozen rolls all at once, up front.
And just how do consumers empty those costly cards? By any of a number of methods, all, everyone agrees, a huge bore.
In the beginning, downloading to computers required cables, intimidating problems like port conflicts, and, unless you had an AC adapter for the camera, a serious risk of losing your pictures.
A lot of these problems were solved by the improvements in removable memory, and memory-card readers for computers. Still, the computer was a necessary evil. What if you didn't bring it along to a high-volume shoot, like a wedding, or a cross-country vacation trip, or a day with Disney?
Either you'd buy more memory cards (maybe at Disney, but not everywhere) or you'd stop taking pictures. Or you'd buy a single-use film camera. Was this any way to popularize digicams?