Out of the Shoebox and Onto the Screen

Out of the Shoebox and Onto the Screen


Much has been made of the coming onrush of baby boomers, those soon-to-retire folks who, marketers would have you believe, are not going to be like their grandparents and who want adventure, creative challenges and an active lifestyle as part of their leisure days. While profiling an entire generation is a bit of foolishness dreamt up in some Madison Avenue suite, one thing is certain about this generation—they have lots of images on film that are sitting in the proverbial shoebox. And while the baby boomers (BB’s) are not alien to computers and even digital photography, many of their film images still await conversion to digital form so that they can be shared with grandchildren or used as a creative outlet for everything from wall prints to Web sites. These folks have stories to tell and family albums to create, and many want to have their images as part of the legacy of their lives they leave behind.

The ability to create such projects has become simpler than ever before, given that the images are available in digital form. Photo books and albums are a case in point. With basic software and the user’s ability to open a directory and drag and drop an image onto a template, just about anyone can make an attractive photo book these days. The scrapbooking movement has spawned an entire industry, one that is more and more evident at the PMA show. Go into any crafts store and you’ll see aisle after aisle of goods for this market, including software programs and templates available for every type of project, from cutesy baby books to constructing elaborate family trees. And for those who aspire to be gallery artists, there are fantastic printers in every price point for making wall-worthy images that rival those even the most experienced avid amateur darkroom printer could have produced in the past.

Scanning a Market

The key to unlocking all this potential, and getting more of BB’s into the game, is easy access to converting film to digital files. Many years back I remember the ease of Kodak’s Photo CDs. You brought in a mass of images at one time to a Photo CD lab and paid anywhere from $2-3 per scan for a hierarchy or resolution settings, from web-size to a nice 18MB file. After a while I and all those really into conversion learned that getting a good scanner made better economic sense, given an initial learning curve and realization that the trade-off was time spent making the scans for the money spent at the lab. Today, some labs still offer this service, but on “straight” scans without the resolution pack. But most folks I talk with are either not aware of the service, or have been disappointed by the scans provided by sometimes untrained, sometimes indifferent personnel.

There are a number of approaches that could be taken to exploit this potentially huge market. One, of course, is emphasizing scanners as part of the desktop environment. A number of companies, including Epson, HP and Canon, have been doing this with their “all-in-one” printers, scanners, fax machines et al. These desktop devices are just what their name implies—all things digital for all sorts of media, from documents to images. Yes, they can be used as memory card readers, but they also can be used to scan a 4×6 print and make a print and create a digital file simultaneously. They are home office and hobbyist devices, with OCR and even scan and fax capability.

For those who want higher quality there are dedicated film scanners, which take negative strips or sets of slides and offer all sorts of software for creating quite large files. These are offered by an array of companies, from Nikon and Canon to Epson and Microtek. Many have proprietary software loaded or third-party programs that allow the user to enhance the image, and even “rescue” faded color and get rid of grain and dirt. Models range in price and capability, with those for the avid amateur offering impressive quality that rival drum scans of the past. In that class are also a group of flatbed scanners that can be used on prints or film, with equally impressive results.

Indeed, there are even “gang” scanners from companies like Pacific Imaging that take 50 or more slides at once and perform scans on each—the user just sets up the parameters and can walk away. This is perfect for web pages or moderately-sized prints, or for teachers and lecturers who had been presenting with slide projection in the past and now arrive at their classrooms to find nothing but digital projectors available. And even today’s software programs can get into the multi-print scanning act. A little known facet of Photoshop, for example, allows the user to scan as many prints as can fit on a flatbed and then delivers each as a separate file.

Sorting it out

While the do-it-yourself crowd certainly has enough to keep them busy, all levels of labs might do well to get into the act. A number of years back I saw a mass print scanner that worked something like a card shuffler. Prints of the same size were stacked into a feeder and then run in serial fashion through a high speed scanner that yielded individual files of each one. With negative scanning and small file-size production now part of the standard workflow, it seems that all we might need is a push to establish services that appeal to those with lots of film images in their dressers and filing cabinets, as well as those who want more than a 3MB file from their images.

The issue, of course, is workflow and getting enough through the pipeline to justify the expense. But that was the issue when digital first came to the fore and folks scoffed at the time it took to “scan every negative.” That was soon settled, and now scanning is all part of how things get done. The same went for kiosks, and the imagined backup time as customers tried to figure out how they worked. But again, that soon got settled out and there are kiosks in every venue imaginable.

One of the challenges when film was king was to get people to remove negatives and slides from their shoebox and make enlargements and reprints, as the markup on that work was excellent and every print larger than 4×6 (or then, 3×5) was gravy. Now, it seems to me, we have a similar challenge, and opportunity, to get those legacy images into another medium. From there, some work will flow to personal desktops, where ink, paper, printers and on-line printing and sharing sites will benefit. But even more could flow into labs and kiosks that make printing from digital files easy for all. The benefit to the user is that they get a “legacy” CD or DVD in the bargain, something their kids can relate to as the proper form an image should take.

In short, with the right marketing message and infrastructure in place, the “old” form of imaging could become new again, and with it more business for everyone.

Reliving Life in 1,400 Slides

Picture Business did a story almost two years ago on a consumer that lived on Long Island that was looking to have some 1,400 color slides of over 50 years of family vacations and gatherings digitized and burned to DVD. The gentleman’s name was Keith Montavo and at 77-years-old he was looking to leave his four sons a wonderful legacy to the family’s history and a convenient way to relive all those memories.

After visiting 8 Long Island, NY locations to see if they would perform this service he was frustrated that all of them either farmed the slides out to a third party or didn’t offer the service at all. Not wanting to take a chance on having 1,400 irreplaceable slides land in the hands of someone he would not have the opportunity to speak to himself, Montavo was about to give up. He was eventually approached by a friend of one of his sons who works in the imaging business who was more than happy to take this profitable little job on himself. For the tidy sum of $1,200 Montavo had the job done by a kid with a scanner and some slideshow software that produced a professional looking DVD of a half-century of Montavo memories.

Montavo ended the piece by stating, “My guess is there are a multitude of consumers out there who would love to have their old negatives, prints and slides burned to CD, DVD, etc. so they can relive times gone by on the living room television screen. We certainly have.”

How right he was and smart retailers who realized this a while back are reaping the rewards of a market that gets hotter by the day.