"The biggest issue labs are facing is competing with big-box retailers who use photographic printing as a loss leader-it's impossible for a lab to compete with a .19-cent print," says Plotkin. "That's why marketing, reputation, and quality customer support are key. Local labs have the luxury of meeting with their clientele face to face. That ability gives them the opportunity to sell more products and services on demand."
In the end, a prolab can do the job more efficiently and more effectively than many photographers could hope to do on their own. "Our history is color, as opposed to the minilab or drugstore chain or now the big-box stores," says CPQ's Kimball. "Photographers are not always the best color people-they are usually great composers and creators. There are definitely exceptions, like a photographer we know in Kentucky, Tim Walden, who is famous for his fiber-paper black-and-whites; but he's a rarity."
Plotkin sums it up perfectly: "I don't know of many photographers who want to spend all of their time in front of a computer printing orders when they can be earning money shooting."