Everybody’s chattering about a new normal. Climate change; the shift from commuting to working remotely; and the elephant in the room, the effect of the pandemic on the social fabric as variants, like named hurricanes, emerge with each passing month.
There’s lots to discuss and debate about how we should approach these dilemmas. However, my aim here is to focus on how the evolving situation may affect the photo-imaging industry in the short term.
I still hold to the idea that there can be no economic health (or stability) without public health. But I leave it to others to debate the political as well as social issues in other journals and on other street corners.
Getting Product from Here to There in the New Normal
I carefully read the fascinating State of the Industry report in the August/September DIR issue. I was struck by the degree to which the supply side of the equation in the imaging (and almost every other) industry is out of whack; demand is high but supply is limited. Moreover, this is due not only to limited quantities caused by manufacturing delays but to the simple inability to get it to market. Whether cameras, lenses, chips, memory cards or other gear, products are suffering from breaks in the supply chain. Thus, shortages are created that throw the “normal” functioning of the market into disarray.
As to manufacture, it’s rare for a complex product like a camera to be made from parts coming solely from one plant; it’s even rarer for parts and assemblage to occur in the same place. Possibly making matters worse, the turnover of product lines and modification of models necessitates that numerous suppliers retool.
That’s where problems occur. Conversations like “we have the body ready, where’s the chip?” are commonplace. In addition, assemblage factories are dissipated by the pandemic; drivers and delivery workers are in short supply; overall distribution channels are stalled.
As I write this, the Guardian newspaper website quotes the Los Angeles port director saying, “Americans’ buying strength is so strong and epic that we can’t absorb all this cargo into the domestic supply chain.” The result? Cargo ships sit wallowing in ports near and far, their containers filled with goods awaiting offloading.
The Consumer Side
Anyone who has flown recently knows the tale too well. Airlines promote lower fares, so people want to travel and book. However, when you get to the airports, there’s rarely a full crew available for on-time takeoff. Consequently, there are missed connections with related headaches. Hardly a good way to build brand loyalty.
Also on the consumer side of the formula, recent reports on the nightly news warn that it’s high time to do holiday shopping (I write this at the end of September!). They also report some retailers are “hoarding” the usual gifting fare.
In my experience, it was high time I replaced an on-camera flash for an upcoming family wedding I promised to photograph. (My fault—I rarely shoot with flash these days and batteries sitting in an auxiliary flash for three years generally rot the contacts.) When I went to the website of my local camera store (and a big-box store), nearly two-thirds of the options were “unavailable.” Subsequently, the one I settled for was the last one on the shelf.
Current shortages affect consumer behavior. What’s more, when buying desire is put off, the ardor—if you will—subsides. And with the supply side issues unresolved on the manufacturing side, new technology and innovations are stalled as well, given the difficulty of getting all the parts and assemblage ducks in a row. Longer wait times for already announced products and the slowed introduction of future products may well result.
So, what are the possible (and likely) repercussions? Prices will rise due to higher transport costs; restricted selections may occur; and at one point, the smart consumer may hold off on purchase till things settle down. This is not a good scenario.
Take the recent onrush of prices for lumber that came right at the start of the housing bubble (please). Shocked by the increases, homeowners put off construction projects; soon prices fell as fast as they had previously risen. However, they did not fall to the “old” price, mind you, but they fell, and hoarders ate their losses.
Holding the line on the manufacturers’ side is an effort, since they’re not in the business of losing money. In all, a reset that considers methods and modes of manufacture and delivery will have to be reconsidered—if, and when, things calm down. This will stretch into at least 2022, when manufacturers will have to make some tough decisions.
Trade Shows and Workshops
Speaking of reconsideration, we all hoped the pandemic would have calmed down by now so trade shows could commence. However, photo-imaging events continue to be canceled. Some are going “virtual”; others are just throwing in the towel. There were also announcements from major exhibitors that they are pulling out from shows like NAB and InfoComm later this year and early into the next.
When photokina closed shop, the trade show company flatly announced that, in effect, a large photo-imaging show could no longer be profitable. Well, for a behemoth like photokina, that was and will most likely remain the case.
However, what may occur is the rise of regional (or smaller countrywide) trade shows that feature exhibitor booths along with seminars and events that combine “live” and virtual aspects. This assumes the pandemic is more under control and health measures are in place. While the recent Photopia show in Hamburg did, by all reports, a fine job, the jury is still out on if and when this can be emulated in other regions.
I didn’t attend Photopia for reasons well known by all travelers these days. The rules of engagement covered everything from bathroom capacity to handling of goods at booths; the required tests and contact tracing and vaccine verifications seemed exhausting.
Moreover, there was no way to know whether when I returned, the mandates might have changed to require me to hole up in some bleak hotel at JFK airport watching CNN and cartoons for two weeks before I could breathe the free air of home. Stuff like that. In short, airline travel is weird enough these days, and there are some places I would rather not chance, foreign and domestic.
A Bright Spot Shines
A bright spot is the sustained effort and resultant proliferation of online seminars and workshops. Having experienced the “real” thing for most of my life, I am not a fan. However, I do see this trend as an educational and commercial outreach that appeals to those who truly seek to learn and connect with the photo community.
What’s more, by their growth and popularity, you can feel that need out there. There is an eagerness to learn more about photography—technique, approach, point of view, printmaking, professional applications; all the important aspects of every art and craft. I applaud the inventiveness and talent of the providers—individual photographers and companies alike. However, I sure do miss looking someone in the eye without the glass barrier of a monitor.
Will Time Heal All Wounds?
It seems like only yesterday we were wrestling with matters that shook up the industry and represented major turns in the road. They comprised the onrush of the cameraphone and slow demise of the point-and-shoot digital camera; the DSLR versus mirrorless format wars; and, going way back to the biggest tremor of them all, digital’s rise and film photography’s fall.
Along the way, we’ve weathered numerous storms and adjusted as needed. In some cases, companies had to fold their cards and look for another game. For the most part, we stayed the course.
All along the way, the most important thing to keep in mind was and is the role we play in providing options that emphasize the social importance of photography and the way it binds us as a family, a region or even a world community.
Whatever the camera, whatever the format, whatever the way we and our customers communicate and express ourselves with images, the fact is that photography is one of the staples of our shared experience. Despite the fear and loathing and greed too often on display, we will get through this and figure it out. Stay strong, stay safe and begin to prepare for a better day.