Although the readers of Photo Industry Reporter are primarily U.S.-based, it is always interesting to look at worldwide developments. Globally, as photo kiosk installations continue to proliferate, the number of minilabs continues to fall (see Figure 1). Why?
From stand-alone output devices, photo kiosks evolved into input stations for both on-site minilabs and remote output devices connected over the Internet. One major drawback of “wet” silver halide and even many inkjet minilabs for retailers, especially mass retailers, is the need to have a trained operator. Consequently there has been significant activity over the past couple of years replacing wet minilabs with dry models.
As a result, in 2011 there were about 2,100 new wet models installed worldwide and roughly the same number of reconditioned silver halide units, compared to more than 4,000 dye-sub and 5,000 inkjet models. The majority of these installations were replacing older minilab models already in operation.
Even in China, which has four minilab manufacturers, sales of minilab equipment have fallen drastically.
Prismlab (prismlab.com), the company that initially launched the double-sided silver halide minilab business together with media from China Lucky Film, has sold hundreds of these models in China over the past three years. However, at the July Photo & Imaging show in Shanghai, Prismlab had a small booth and was demonstrating the 3D printer that it manufactures for LO3D, explaining that sales of both its single- and double-sided models had dried up.
We estimate that shipments, including reconditioned models, fell 23% in 2011 compared to 2010 and will fall by a similar amount in 2012. In India, which is one of the few countries in which silver halide minilab equipment sells well, unit sales rose 5% in 2011, but they are expected to fall by 7% during 2012. The “growth” regions of the world for minilab equipment are Africa and Southeast Asia.
When we talk about the minilab market, we should really be considering the on-site photofinishing retailer, formerly called a “minilab,” rather than just looking at the equipment. In mid-2012, at the PhotoNext imaging trade show in Tokyo, both Fujifilm and DNP were demonstrating their latest photo kiosks.
Fujifilm (fujifilmusa.com) added a cable connection for iPhones to its kiosks in July 2011 and began promoting this service. The number of orders taken at kiosks from smartphones rose to 0.8% of the total. In May 2012, it added a cable for Android smartphones to its kiosk (pictured), and the number of orders taken from smartphones rose to 13.0% of the total that month. At photokina, Fujifilm was showing the latest version of its kiosk, with the smartphone cables, in a new color scheme.
In the Fujifilm booth at PhotoNext, female show attendees were creating scrapbooks by applying various materials to photos, demonstrating how easy the process is. Domestically in Japan, the company has set up a website (album-cafe.jp) specifically for scrapbooking, as well as a dedicated Facebook page (facebook.com/FujifilmJP.albumafe). This struck us as a terrific way to get visitors to stop and learn about the process of making a scrapbook.
DNP has also added the capability of connecting to iPhones/iPads and Android devices to its DS-T3j terminals (only sold in Japan), although the download is via Wi-Fi. The company has seen kiosk orders from smartphones in Japan skyrocket. The DNP kiosks connect to several different printers.
Kodak (kodak.com) and Fujifilm both test retail concept stores in Asia, especially in China. During October 2011, Kodak opened its first Kodak Image Club flagship store in Beijing, which is designed around elements such as life, visual, fashion, young and DIY. This store introduced the concept of “creative imaging solutions,” offering consumers a resource platform that combines designers, professional photographers and a commercial image library.
Kodak is cooperating with 15,000 Chinese designers on the platform: consumers can find designer products in this flagship store and have their photos incorporated into the products of these designers. Similarly, hundreds of pro photographers are available to advise consumers on taking better images and creating better prints. It is interesting that this project is being driven by Beijing Colorlife Technology Co., whose general manager, Zhang Jiang, also directs the operations center for the Kodak Imaging Network (China).
In a recent interview with Photo Imaging News, Jiang stated: “This new business model tweaks the previous business relationship at the minilab stores. In the past, only a buyer-seller relationship existed between minilab stores and their consumable suppliers. Manufacturers would offer some rebates, discounts and promotional activities to retail stores if they buy consumables in large quantity, helping them boost the business.
“Today’s photo-imaging business, however, is no longer as simple as before. When the core of the business has changed from products to services, an alliance must be formed among photofinishers, suppliers of brand and photo-imaging solutions such as Kodak, consumable suppliers, as well as operational service providers like Colorlife, thereby forming a complete system. Consumers can turn to this alliance for better photo services. The biggest difference between this new model and the previous ones is that there is not just a simple demand-and-supply relationship between Kodak and the minilab stores; both sides need to jointly face the ultimate consumers and establish a photo-imaging alliance.
“Because, once such an alliance is established, many resources can be shared,” added Jiang. “For example, we can utilize the Kodak network to establish cooperation with travel agencies, wedding planning companies, playgrounds, schools and government departments, providing them with services, and assigning their orders to minilab shops. There are many opportunities like these. In short, with this alliance, significant changes will take place in the photo-imaging market.”
One result of this transformation is that consumers entering these “minilabs” are able to get prints and create photo books, personalized wallpaper, sofa covers, mounted canvas prints and wall décor.
During a recent trip to Europe for conferences, we were fascinated by the window displays in shops selling a variety of products. However, we did not find any photofinishing shop windows with the same exciting presentations. Walking around photokina, we were also impressed by the displays of some exhibitors aimed at making consumers aware of the photo products that they could create.
CeWe Color (cewecolor.de/en), Europe’s leading photofinishing company, had the most enticing presentation. They showed a wide range of calendars that could be created. While retail shops may not have the space to show all these configurations, certainly there is space to show a variety of types.
CeWe also offered an attractive display of a variety of photo products that can be created from consumers’ images. The company also demonstrated how seasonal gifts can be displayed.
While the minilab market continues to shrink, the on-site photofinishing retailer now has boundless opportunities to entice their former 4×6-print customers with a varied and ever-growing range of photo-centric products.