Changing trends and technology platforms have always affected how consumers use photography. During the course of the past 60 years – when the consumer snapshot market really took off – the photo industry weathered numerous changes. These changes are almost too numerous to list; let’s just say it’s turned upside down.
While the tech and techniques of photography have changed considerably, it’s tempting to see changes in the marketplace as indicative of larger trends. Just because a piece of technology is becoming more available and affordable does not mean necessarily it is responding to market needs. Sometimes, like the introduction of the digital camera, the technology perfectly suits customer desires. Sometimes, like 3-D lenticular photos, the technology is better suited for niche applications.
As we look at market for imaging devices — still cameras, smartphones, action cameras, drones – it’s evident there is a ceiling. People can only own so many devices! We have already seen this with smartphones: IDC says worldwide smartphone growth will slow to 3.1% this year to 1.48 billion units. That’s a substantial slowdown from the 10.5% growth in 2015 and 27.8% in 2014, according to IDC. Large markets, like the United States, Western Europe and China will see low single-digit growth rates in 2016 while Japan and Canada are expected to contract by 6.4% and 6.9%, respectively.
Changing devices, changing behavior
This slow-down may be worrisome to device makers, but for retailers and photo labs who create photo output for consumers, it’s not necessarily bad news. Consumers have their choice of multiple devices to capture and to share their memories; they are never far from a tablet, a phablet or a phone. Part of the reason why camera sales have slowed is not because of a waning interest in photography, but market saturation. There are more than enough cameras to capture every facet of society. Incremental improvements in resolution and in image quality aren’t enough to spur new device purchases these days.
The increased onslaught of photos captured, however, is the key to expanding industry profits. According to InfoTrends’ Ed Lee, more than 1 trillion photos will be captured worldwide this year. By 2020, this will reach 1.4 trillion.
That’s a mind-boggling number. To give you an idea of the scale, Lee estimates, if a person took one photo per second, it would take them 31,720 years to shoot a trillion photos!
“Furthermore, InfoTrends estimates there are about 4 trillion images worldwide stored on a variety of devices, storage media, and in the cloud. That’s over 120,000 years’ worth of images,” writes Lee.
All of this means there is an enormous opportunity for the output side of the business. Cloud storage has made photos and videos accessible across multiple devices, and social networks are making it easier for developers to access the wealth of photos stored there.
The key for any retailer or any photo lab is to market their businesses at the intersection of consumer interest and photo availability. Photo output is a luxury item, in a way, since you don’t need to print any more to see your pictures. To engage a consumer to print, the retailer has to capitalize on the need to print – either for memories, for decoration, for personal expression or any of the other great reasons to print – with ease-of-use and merchandising. Rather than just present a catalog of product choices with generic stock images, photo retailers have the opportunity to truly engage the consumers with photo realistic previews, and excite their imaginations with creative possibilities.