For nearly three quarters of a century the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association has kept with its founding mission. Rooted in what was then the photographic industry, the group served as a venue addressing the particular interests of hardware vendors, and an organization where they could network to share experiences and insights in dealing with the challenges of the photographic marketplace.
“Just as the entire industry has changed, PMDA has been going through a little re-invention in the last two years,” says current president Matthew Knickerbocker. “Our role has shifted as an industry organization to become more proactive in reaching out to consumers.”
The primary venue for that is the PhotoImaging Information Council’s “Take Great Pictures” Web site (www.takegreatpictures.com) where today’s consumer can tap into abundant resources for self-educating themselves about digital photography, digital cameras, and how to maximize their enjoyment of all the things imaging allows them to do. Knickerbocker, currently starting the second year of his two-year term as PMDA president, is a driving force in this strategy to promote the interests of PMDA members by making consumers more aware of their imaging options.
He brings to PMDA a background and experience which has kept him on the front lines as film photography evolved into filmless imaging over the past two decades. Knickerbocker started with FotoMat Corp. back in 1978, and joined Fujifilm USA five years later as a sales rep for Detroit/Northeastern Michigan. He also serves as vice president of the board of directors of the International Photographic Council, a non-governmental agency of the U.N.
“When you look at today’s market, you see a lot of blurring across retail channels and products, whereas there were distinct channels for photographic products in the past,” observes Knickerbocker. Nowhere is that shift more evident than when you consider that film cameras were once the consumer’s sole means of taking a picture.
“One of the biggest market changes is in the many different devices used to capture images today,” he observes. “Along with cameras, consumers also have choices in cameraphones and computer cameras, and they can find them in a much greater variety of stores than in the past.”
While sales trends, across the board, clearly show that consumers have embraced their many options in image capture, business has lagged on the print side, traditionally the profit center for photo retailers and specialty dealers. Knickerbocker believes, “Consumers have been confused, and that has caused some of them to pull back,” from the print habits which were an integral part of photo pursuits in the past.
And, he sees largely untapped potential for printing at retail, once the industry addresses the confusion about digital printing which many consumers still hold. For some digital camera owners, it’s still a simple lack of awareness; for others, ignorance of the full menu of digital print services. “The key thing for retailers is to reach into the marketplace and let customers know about all the things they can do, easily, with their digital images…It’s the same message as with analog film, only adapted to the digital world and the opportunities there,” he explained.
The goal with the Take Great Pictures Web site is to provide a clearing house for all types of information to promote that awareness. Content includes product news, photo contests, book reviews, tips on taking better pictures and scrapbooking, guides to photo opportunities and locations, and space where consumers can share their best photos with others.
All of this can help get consumers to think beyond routine prints. “The bad news is the overall decline in standard sized prints,” observes Knickerbocker. But, he points out, the biggest change is that consumers no longer have to print every picture they take in order to know which are keepers.
“The good news is the shift in the business to all the other specialty products people can create with their pictures. The gap is closing in how these specialty services can offset declines in standard print volume, but those services have to be promoted heavily,” Knickerbocker added.
Part of that message should be the relative ease and economics of retail print services, even for printing consumers are doing at home. Knickerbocker cites Fuji research which finds there is a threshold at which consumers recognize the advantage of retail services for standard sized prints, if they are aware of them.
“When people have a few prints they want to make they are more inclined to make them at home. But once that gets beyond 10 prints they tend to turn to a retail outlet, either ordering online or visiting the store. There’s big opportunities there for the retailer by showing them all the other products they can now create, easily, from their digital images.”
Digital has helped create the market for customized cards, calendars and novelty gift items like mugs, mousepads and keychains. “Right now it’s the photographic book which seems to be most popular and it represents a fantastic opportunity for retailers,” he says. “Today’s software makes it very easy to create, and that’s something that just wasn’t practical or affordable for most consumers in the past,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more bound books, something that tells a story through photos, and printed versions of the electronic scrapbooks people are creating with their pictures on their computers.”
Another retail opportunity where consumer awareness still seems relatively low is their built-in need for an archiving solution. “That’s a real concern because we’re still finding that less than half of consumers are doing anything to archive their images,” Knickerbocker states. Unfortunately the large percentage that describe it as a real concern have likely already lost photos to a computer crash.
“People need to realize that in the digital world, nothing is permanent,” he says. “What we recommend is that consumers make a hard print of the images they want to keep from every single photo session. We try not to stress that fear but that is the message: a print is still the best way to make sure you’ll have that picture.”
That’s a message that should be conveyed to the growing ranks of camera phone users, as well. Although most retail outlets with a digital lab can now print from these phones, Knickerbocker reports demand for the service has been slow to develop. “There’s been very little demand, but the quality hasn’t been there in the images captured by these cameraphones,” he says. “So far the cameraphone has been more of a casual imaging device. People have been using them to grab an image for wallpaper on their phone or to e-mail to a friend.”
That could soon change, though. “The higher resolution camera phones, which capture print quality images, are just starting to appear in this market,” notes Knickerbocker. ”But we would like to believe that consumers will continue to use their phone as a casual imaging device, and continue to buy dedicated cameras, as well.”
That trend is already evident as cameraphone owners also buy digital cameras for use when they will be taking pictures they intend to keep. “As camera phones are becoming more sophisticated, so are digital cameras. It’s making it much easier for consumers to take some great pictures, and do a lot more with them.”
But the real challenge of the cameraphone may not be seen for a few years, when the generation growing up with these lifestyle products becomes the mainstream consumer. “Our biggest concern is losing touch with consumers, especially the younger consumers born into this digital age,” Knickerbocker admits. “We’re reaching out to show them all they can do, all the ways they can enjoy digital imaging.”
It’s a renewed mission and an assumed responsibility to secure the future of PMDA members through the many customers they serve. “We’re trying to cover all the bases and do our best to be that resource where consumers can turn for information of all aspects of imaging, today and tomorrow.” yy