PMA Remains This Industry’s Premiere Showcase

PMA Remains This Industry’s Premiere Showcase


Last year the pundits began hanging dark crepe for the PMA show, predicting that the behemoth CES would soon become the de facto photo show and supplant, or even incorporate the venerable gathering of the trade. Those dire predictions were unfounded, especially after those seeking photo trade good were lost in a sea of plasma and other types of TVs and associated goods at the CES show. While digital photography has become the fulcrum of a continually growing business involving everything from software to printers to online finishing, CES still hasn’t got it right, at least in the sense of giving photography its due.

But when Kodak recently unveiled their hobbyist printers, guess who got the exclusive for selling the goods, at least for a good while after the launch? Right–Best Buy. So while the mass market for photo goods might find a more welcome home at CES, where buyers get set for the summer and even holiday season, PMA still, to me, is where photo buyers find the most welcome home. Yes, some buyers complain that PMA comes too late in the year to set full-year and early 2008 plans, but I still see it as the place where anyone who sells imaging has to be.

Many folks see square footage as the best way to judge a show, but if that’s the case then Photo Expo, held in New York every fall, would be deemed less than successful. But ask anyone who attended that show last year about the sheer energy and excitement there and you’ll understand that a show is as much about feedback and the enthusiasm of buyers and customers as it is about how many booths were put up, and what size they might have been. Of course, show organizers and their backers will look at this differently than those who slogged through those packed aisles, but I came away from the Javits Center reinvigorated about our market. CES is certainly glitzy and exciting, but usually one comes home with a cold.

Changes evident

The main focus at PMA is photography (all right, imaging, if you must) and all that surrounds it. Yes, the big boys have shrunken booth space over the years, but some of them have diminished their commitment to the market as well. And last year, when Agfa and Minolta/Konica left the scene the “holes” were noticeable. But there was a good addition in the scrapbooking and framing part of the business, and certainly the educational aspect of PMA, with all sorts of satellite conferences, made very positive contributions to the mix.

I would encourage PMA to continue on this track and to add even more such events and ideas. One of the things that always strikes me about Photokina, the blockbuster show held every two years in Germany, is how much energy and space is committed to photographs and photographers, with major gallery shows and even a large hall dedicated to nothing but great pictures. You walk around Photokina and you know that this show is about the image. Walk around PMA and you have to search beyond the booths for any sort of gallery space. I know, show floor real estate is expensive, but making that commitment would only bolster the show’s reputation and standing.

The aforementioned dropouts from the show have been supplanted with new players, including Apple, Microsoft, Sony and now GE. While some have been present in one form or another in the past, all see the huge and growing market PMA represents. Plus there are many new companies joining in, including a host of paper companies looking to get even more presence in the photo market. And the return to Las Vegas won’t hurt this show either, as two years in Orlando left some feeling that it was one year too many in that venue.

Satellite conferences

A good indication of what is going to keep PMA vital is the number of “satellite” conferences being held. Of course there’s DIMA, which continues to offer a large number of sessions prior to the show, and features the Shootout that always draws a crowd during the show. The educators’ conference has grown over the years as well, and draws a new group of photo schools and attendees that are vital to photography’s future. Last year I ran into some old friends from a photo department in a university from Seoul, Korea; the professor had brought a dozen students with him. This kind of energy can only be a positive force in the show.

A new conference this year was the Sports Photographers Association of America (SPAA) meeting, which focused on tools, skill sets, marketing and bringing that trade into contact with labs and various suppliers. Then there’s the framers, school and scrapbookers association conferences and meetings as well. In short, PMA has “drilled down” into the industry to identify and showcase various aspects of the trade, and in the process expanded who comes to the show and the potential for more face time and business for all.

This might be sounding a bit like a promo for PMA, but I have always been a strong supporter of the gathering. This being my 25th show, I have certainly seen its ups and downs. What gives me optimism about it now are the great lengths the association has gone to in order to reinvent itself as the industry, and the entire photo market, has changed. When digital imaging supplanted film there was some concern that the industry was going to be swallowed up by the consumer electronics mentality. But there are so many facets and levels to the photography market today that there will always be room for a show that understands, and speaks to those to whom photography is more than a commodity that can be blister packed and sold by the ton. Keeping that focus, and adding even more programs and exhibits about the art and craft of photography is what will keep the PMA show vital for years to come. yy