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 user 2005-02-19 at 10:33:00 am Views: 104
  • #10381

    Digital Camera Boom May Be Nearing Crest

    (Feb. 05) — Picture this: Amateur shutterbugs in love with
    the ease of digital photography have spent bundles on new high-tech cameras –
    and they’re taking more snapshots than ever.

    But that’s a slightly worried grin on the face of the photo
    industry as it holds its annual convention, PMA2005, this weekend in Orlando.
    After several years of fast-speed growth, the Photo Marketing Association
    International (PMAI) trade group projects that digital camera sales will rise
    13% this year.

    The PMAI says 52% of households will own a digital camera
    by the end of the year. Many consumers are already on their second digital
    camera purchase, suggesting the market is maturing earlier than expected, says
    Chris Chute, an analyst with market research firm IDC.

    As a result, manufacturers are adding features and dropping
    prices. “The competition will be fierce,” Chute says.

    That’s great news for consumers.

    Photofinishers, from small one-hour photo labs to the local
    Wal-Mart and CVS drugstore, are getting more aggressive in pushing digital
    printing. The average cost of a lab-produced 4-by-6 print in 2004 was 30 cents,
    down from 61 cents in 2000, says the PMAI.

    While companies such as Kodak have struggled to remain
    relevant as the world switched from film cameras to digital, no sector of the
    industry has taken it harder than photofinishers. They’re selling prints for
    less and making fewer of them – a projected 26 billion for 2005, from 30.3
    billion in 2000. Film-developing revenue will tumble to a projected $3.9 billion
    for 2005 from 2000′s $6.2 billion, the PMAI says.

    Photofinishers see the explosion in camera phones as a
    potential holy grail. Some 150 million camera phones sold worldwide last year,
    compared with 64 million digital cameras. That’s a lot of potential prints to
    process. But camera phones have fuzzy, low-resolution images, and pictures are
    hard to transfer.

    For now, the jewel of the photo industry remains that small
    wonder, the digital camera, a pocket-size device that can record an image

    At the show

    While many manufacturers are slashing prices for
    entry-level cameras, such as Nikon’s high-resolution 7-megapixel $379 Coolpix
    7600, those generating preshow heat are more expensive step-up models that
    appeal to consumers seeking a second or third camera.

    Kodak’s new cameras offer extras such as expanded zoom
    capability and larger liquid-crystal display (LCD) preview screens, while rival
    Fujifilm is targeting another big concern: usability.

    Fuji has played with the innards of its cameras to increase
    battery life to 500 pictures from 350, and start-up time to one-tenth of a
    second from half a second for two new models. “The biggest concern from
    consumers now is battery life and faster start-up,” says Fuji senior product
    manager Darin Pepple.

    Kodak, which in 1888 started offering consumers a small
    alternative to the huge cameras of the day, has been struggling to remake itself
    in the face of dramatically declining film sales. It has announced plans to lay
    off up to 15,000 employees over three years, shuttered factories and has been
    trying to shift its focus to digital.

    While sales have been flat for years – 2004′s $13.5 billion
    is a fraction above 1998′s $13.4 billion – Kodak won bragging rights in 2004 as
    the No. 1 digital camera manufacturer. By slashing prices on entry-level models
    and advertising heavily, Kodak overtook longtime leader Sony, Chute says.

    Kodak, Sony and Canon dominate the top end of the industry,
    with a combined 57.4% market share: Kodak at 21.9% to Sony’s 19.4% and Canon’s

    Kodak hopes to break further away by going against the
    grain with a new camera that is considerably more expensive than most
    point-and-shoot models.

    Kodak’s $599 EasyShare-One, out in June, is being
    positioned as not just an image-capture device, but also a portable photo album.
    It has a 3-inch LCD screen (compared with the average 1.5-to-2-inch version) and
    can store up to 1,500 images in its internal memory. In turn, with an optional
    $100 wireless Internet card, users can upload pictures directly from the camera
    to Kodak’s Web site, to share with friends.

    Of the higher price, Kodak Vice President Nancy Carr says,
    “It’s more than just a camera, and people are willing to spend more for the next

    Consumers showed their willingness to do that over the
    holidays, when professional-like digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras were
    one of the most heavily advertised categories.

    Digital SLRs offer faster response time, the ability to
    stop action, use interchangeable wide-angle, telephoto and zoom lenses, and
    provide more focusing and lighting choices.

    Canon, which kick-started the market for digital SLRs with
    its $999 Digital Rebel 300D, has slashed the price to $799 effective in March.
    It’s also introduced a replacement model, the $999 Rebel XT, which has an
    8-megapixel sensor. A megapixel is a measurement of a camera’s resolution. The
    current Rebel is 6-megapixel.

    Chute thinks many second- and third-time digital buyers
    will end up buying the Rebel, which he predicts will be priced at $699 for the
    holidays. “Once you try one out, you don’t want to go back to a
    point-and-shoot,” he says.

    Pent-up demand for prints

    Many new digital owners feel that way about print-making.
    Why go to the photo store when you can zap out prints at home?

    “That was one reason for buying the camera in the first
    place,” says Reid Webber, who runs Sarasota Photo Center in Florida. “You don’t
    have to make the extra stop during the day.”

    Yet, the PMAI says the picture is starting to look up for
    lab owners. Some 40% of digital prints will be made at retail this year, up from
    32% last year.

    PMAI’s Gary Pageau says the expanded availability of
    digital printing paid off with higher sales. “Nationally, retail digital
    printing is now almost everywhere, and retailers are doing heavy advertising,”
    he says. “This effort has tapped into the pent-up demand for consumer digital

    Kirk Sidley, who runs Picture Perfect lab in Portland,
    Ore., says his digital print business increased 100% in 2004. “People were
    coming in at Christmastime, with orders of 200 to 300 prints, like they were
    waiting up all year. They tried their home printer, realized we were more
    economical, and came in.”

    Webber believes a bigger industry push on behalf of
    photo-processed prints would take a huge chunk from home printing.

    Major chains such as Wal-Mart, Ritz Camera, CVS and Costco
    advertise one-hour service for digital prints, at prices around 29 cents for a
    4-by-6. Online, discounters such as Clark Color and Snapfish go as low as 11 to
    19 cents a print.

    “I’d like to see the big companies like Kodak and Fuji
    stand up and tell consumers that prints made on photo paper are higher quality
    and longer lasting than the ones you make at home,” he says. “That would make a
    huge impact.”

    Because Fuji and Kodak have big businesses selling
    photographic paper and chemicals to lab owners – and ink-jet printer paper to
    consumers – that’s unlikely.

    While labs promote the idea that their prints last longer
    than ink-jet, it isn’t always so.

    Printing at home can be cumbersome, often result in
    mistakes and be more costly. But Henry Wilhelm, who studies the issue of print
    longevity with his Wilhelm Imaging Research, says many ink-jet prints last
    longer than lab prints. The key is using a newer printer and buying the brand’s
    paper and ink. “If you bought a new Hewlett-Packard printer and non-H-P paper,
    the prints … could start fading as soon as two months,” he says.

    Figuring out camera prints

    Owners of camera phones haven’t experienced print fading
    issues, because most haven’t figured out how to get images off the phones.

    Drugstore chain CVS started offering camera phone prints in
    2004 but found few customers. “It’s a small business right now,” says CVS Vice
    President Judy Sansone.

    Most camera phones require users to upload pictures first
    to the wireless carrier’s Web site for a fee, transfer them to a computer hard
    drive, then figure out a way to get them to an online or bricks-and-mortar

    Few phones have removable memory cards to store images,
    like those in digital cameras.

    “If it ever gets to the point where the customer has
    options, prints from camera phones could be a very nice advantage for us,” says
    Portland’s Sidley.

    Expectations for camera-phone prints at last year’s PMAI
    show were huge, but so far are unfulfilled. What is clear is that people are
    snapping more pictures than ever. One big opportunity for companies this year is
    selling archiving materials: printing, DVD and CD backups, and extra hard
    drives. “Consumers have a body of memories that are accumulating, and if they
    don’t take precautions, they could lose them all in a hard drive crash,” says
    Kristy Holch, an analyst with research firm InfoTrends.

    Holch, a regular attendee at the PMAI show, expects to find
    an optimistic bunch despite the projected slowdown in camera sales. “This is a
    market that has been quadrupling for several years,” she says. “There’s still
    extremely healthy growth for this year.”