I did not attend the PMA convention this year.
It was strictly a personal decision having nothing whatsoever to do with PMA, PTN, or anyone else. Should I have been there to better perform my responsibilities to PTN? Certainly. Would I be losing out by not being at those early-morning press conferences? Of course. The late-night social galas? Most definitely. Meeting with friends and important industry folks one-on-one? No doubt. (Though it was solely my choice, I feel as though The Heavens Above were not too happy with it since, on the day I would have left for Las Vegas I played tennis and, for the first time in maybe 50 years on the court, fell and did some damage. OK, Up There, next year.)
But while I did not physically present myself at the booths, meetings, breakfasts, and long taxi lines, I was able to "cover" the convention from my New Jersey office, thanks to the wonder of cellphones, emails, etc. It was different, no doubt, but it allowed me to "see" the convention from an entirely unique perspective without the cacophony and glitter of the convention floor aisles. I was able to see the trees without being involved with the forest.
From the vantage point of my New Jersey chair, it was interesting to see the rapid changes of the processing landscape. Consider these (for a more complete description of the new products unveiled at the PMA show, I suggest you go to the www.imaginginfo.com, and read the three issues of the Cygnus PMA Daily):
- The photobook in all variations was the unofficial "theme" of this year's show-even commanding an entire booth of its own.
- There are only two prime manufacturers of chemical minilabs actively selling in the U.S.: Noritsu and Kis Photo-Me.
- Dry labs-dye-sub and inkjet-have become a major battlefield for vendors, with new companies joining the fray.
- New dye-sub printers and enhanced software are putting the kiosk ever more into the retail processing picture.
- Photo gifting is starting to finally shake its cobwebs and is likely to become a more important element to the photo retailer.
The board of DIMA is to be commended for being the force behind the idea to set aside a 30x40 booth solely for the purpose of trying to put into one place every option open to a retailer looking to get into the business of selling photobooks. It was a great opportunity to kick the tires of everything photobook without a salesman standing behind you.
CHAD MUNCE, PMA's group executive, digital imaging markets, said that the booth offered dealers a look-see at products in four different categories: bindings, covers and paper, software, and finished photobooks. In all there were 56 "entries" in the booth representing the wares of more than 20 manufacturers, according to Chad.
Prior to the opening of the show, a panel of consumers from Las Vegas was brought in to see the exhibit and offer opinions on the various solutions. Chad said the comments were printed and posted at each product for a retailer to see how "Jennifer" was reacting to what was being offered.
After the first day of PMA, Chad referred to the action in the booth as "packed": "It gave retailers an opportunity to use and test-drive so many different products without having to scout them out all over the floor."
Chad said the reaction was so positive that serious consideration would be given to repeating the display next year.
Manufacturers who had a booth at the show were allowed to participate in the DIMA booth at no charge-overall, a neat idea that saved showgoers a lot of shoe leather while opening up the opportunity to see the photobook universe in one place, at one time.
And Then There Were Two
Once there were Konica, Agfa, Gretag, Kodak, Hope, San Marco, Kis, Oriental, Fuji, Noritsu, Copal, and maybe a few more: all brand names that made up the manufacturing Who's Who of what we used to call one-hour minilabs. They all had one thing in common: utilizing chemicals for the processing of film and printing photographs, and they fought like tigers to build up their market penetration. Fuji and Noritsu have been the dominant brands for years.
Now at PMA there are just two prime manufacturers of wet labs remaining: Noritsu and Kis-a small remnant of a giant industry that was in place to process the tens of millions of rolls of film sold here every year. No more. (There may be other wet equipment coming from sources in India and China, but they are rarely seen on our shores.)
While Fuji remains in the business as a viable minilab brand with its vaunted Frontier models seen in such places as Wal-Mart, Ritz, Longs, etc., all of its new equipment is now being manufactured by Noritsu following an agreement between the companies to share technologies. Makes sense for both: Noritsu, to keep its production lines efficient in a declining market; Fuji, to remain a provider of it popular wet labs without the burden of manufacturing in the same declining market.
While the outward appearance of both machines is similar, each uses proprietary software and certain other components providing enough unique features to allow the brands to compete.
That Kis Photo-Me also remains standing is somewhat ironic. Back in the early 1980s, the Kis "lab" was somewhat of a Rube Goldberg machine that, while it never filled its promise to process film with a profit, it filled the pockets of many aggressive salespeople. Its legal problems drove the system from our shores back to France, and old-timers still raise their hackles at the mention of the name.
Now, through innovation in its DKS systems, wet and dry, and against considerable odds, Kis Photo-Me has found its way back and today is the sole supplier of labs to the CVS chain and some independents with a competitive and reliable system.
The entire dry-lab industry could well be traced back to the ill-fated system from Phogenix in 2003. This first use of inkjet prints in a minilab environment was probably the impetus to move Noritsu a few years later to introduce the dDP-410, its own inkjet using an Epson printhead.
Dye-sub systems, primarily as output devices for free-standing kiosks, kicked in, and it wasn't long before Pixel Magic (now DNP Imaging) and Kis Photo-Me put a gang of dye-sub printers together in a cabinet and called it a minilab. Not quite, as some key functions were still missing.
But now almost every one of the new dry labs, inkjet and dye-sub, comes equipped with two staple features of the traditional chemical-based labs: back printing and order sorting. Now it's a minilab.
HP's sorter is especially unique, with a carousel-type arrangement that can be adjusted for a customer to open a single compartment with a bar-coded receipt, or, when behind the counter, have all compartments available.
At this PMA, the dry lab took the place in the exhibitor's booth that wet labs once held in such reverence: right out front with bright lights and music. There was hardly a brand name worth its salt that wasn't represented with a dry system, now center stage in its booth.
Noritsu introduced a new inkjet system, D-701, 650, 4R prints/hour, appropriate for a medium-volume lab. The Fuji DL-400 (yes, the same one as Noritsu) is that firm's initial foray in dry. DNP (formerly Pixel Magic) has upgraded its NexLab dye-sub system, as has KIS Photo-Me with its new DKS-920.
Kodak and HP are two players offering a complete dry minilab package for the first time. Interesting that these two firms were the partners that kicked off the dry lab idea with its now-defunct Phogenix joint venture. The new HP, PM-2000, with a 700, 4R/hour output is a six-cartridge inkjet system. The Kodak Apex takes a 1,000-foot media roll of its new XtraLife II dye-sub media that can output either glossy or matte prints from the same media.
Interestingly, DIMA awarded Innovative Digital Product Awards to both the HP and Kodak units.
KIOSKS, PRINTERS AND SOFTWARE:
It seems as though just about everybody at the show was talking about enhanced software for their kiosk systems.
Kodak, for one, unveiled its new v. 2.0 software as part of a new G-4x kiosk. Among its features is its ability to take a series of selected images, add licensed music (from name performers), and output what they're calling the Kodak Picture Movie DVD. It is already being retailed by Bartell Drugs, a chain in Washington state, for $14.99. With only the cost to the retailer of a blank DVD, it's a healthy margin item. (Lucidiom has offered a movie DVD with its EQ package.)
Storefront.com, a below-the-radar player in the kiosk world, shook the establishment by taking six of the eight DIMA Kiosk Shootout awards, graciously allowing Kodak and Whitech the leavings. The judging was done by separate panels of "experts" and consumers. It was quite a blowout, appropriate for the Super Bowl weekend that it was, and should open the doors for them to new retail opportunities. Among its new features is its flash technology, which, they claim, "almost instantaneously" responds to a consumer's touchscreen commands.
Among the new printer offerings is the Sony UP-DR200, which can handle paper of 4-, 5-, and 6-inch widths and will kick out 450 4x6 prints/hour.
Memjet, a firm that has developed a kiosk with a printer that outputs an inkjet 4x6 print in just two seconds, was shown at last year's PMA to a selected few in a back-room environment. The firm has since changed its business model. Instead of going to market with its own kiosk, it is working with existing kiosk manufacturers who would incorporate the unique printer into their own kiosks. DAVE CLARK, president of Memjet Photo Retail, acknowledged that he was working with certain kiosk manufacturers but wouldn't name them, indicating it was up to his customer to make such announcements. (Now here is one huge deficiency in working PMA from home. Had I been in Las Vegas...)
Photo gifting used to be just mugs, T-shirts, and mouse pads. Often different suppliers specialized in just a few items, and retailers were forced to deal with a variety of vendors if they wanted to get serious about the business. It was cumbersome for a retailer-especially a chain that must keep things simple for its counter personnel.
The gifting business is changing very rapidly. Two kiosk firms at PMA are offering one-stop shopping for the full boat of photo-gift items, making it a lot easier for the retailer to get into the game. Lucidiom, for one, has partnered with Centrics LLC, which has a software system that allows a retailer or his customer to order any photo gift from a Lucidiom kiosk. Regardless of whatever firm may actually be doing the fulfillment of any single gift item (e.g., one for puzzles, another for T-shirts), the retailer will receive only one billing a month for all photo-gift purchases.
Whitech announced a similar program for its kiosk users, but the details of that program were unavailable-at least to me in New Jersey.
Regardless, it would appear as though the photo-gifting segment, with easier systems for ordering and billing, could be the next big area of growth for the photo retailer. Maybe next year, PMA will have a photo-gifting booth, similar to this year's photobook booth, so retailers can experience the entire gamut of gifting ideas in one area.
One other thing I missed by not being physically at the show: about 50,000 calories of food and drink. My bathroom scale-and wife-were most pleased.