Okay, so the news is certainly encouraging on the photo merchandise front looking out over the next few years. The market in the U.S. is estimated to grow from around 113 million units reported in 2012 to nearly 158 million units by 2017, so says David Haueter, associate director for InfoTrends’ Photo Merchandise Trends Service.
Where InfoTrends sees the real growth is in the personalization of these products. As Haueter explains, “It should be remembered that many of the products in this category have been around for many years and reside in a relatively mature market. Personalization is breathing new life into many of these products, resulting in growth rather than flat or declining volume.”
All well and good, but we thought we’d take a look at a few emerging trends and technologies that, while not directly related to the output market, also bode well for continued growth in this category.
Several major kiosk manufacturers have reported strong growth with regard to mobile usage on their kiosks. Over the past few years, the mobile ordering process has become an important part of the kiosk experience for consumers.
Kodak, while currently working out details on the sale of its kiosk business (106,000+ units), remains excited about how the mobile imaging consumer is beginning to take to the kiosk as an output solution. At this year’s CES, Kodak’s Larry Trevarthen, vice president, Marketing and Retail System Solutions, explained that the company is looking to expand the kiosk’s output capability beyond photos to include any content the consumer may want to create—i.e., self-published books, recipe books, even genealogy books. Integration, he explained, of the on-demand book business with the photo kiosk.
With the mobile device market (smartphones, tablets, etc.) expected to see astounding growth in the next several years, the mobile part of the photo merchandise equation will only grow in significance.
Fujitsu Image-Sharing Tech
The sharing part of the digital imaging equation may be more related to the output part than you think. The easier it is to share favorite images, the more likely they will be chosen to do something more with later on.
While transferring image files from device to device has been made much simpler through the use of the cloud and cloud-based services like Dropbox or Google Drive, consumers have been slow to adopt and even trust this technology.
Fujitsu created a piece of software that can be installed on a computer to allow a digital camera (or smartphone) owner to simply point the device at the computer to transfer selected image files. Thus, the next time you have an image of the kids your parents love, simply select the image, point it at their PC and the image is theirs. The software works in reverse too, so image files can be transferred from the computer to a mobile device in the same manner.
Fujitsu is working out the details and no release date has been set, but late 2013 is being tossed around as a possible debut.
3D Printing Is Going Mainstream
For the uninitiated, 3D printing is, as the name suggests, the creation of three-dimensional objects with a “printer.” Obviously, we’re not talking a paper and ink printer. Instead, 3D printers use materials like plastics and resins to build, layer upon layer, 3D objects utilizing computer-modeling software.
After seeing demos at the 2013 International CES, it looks like this could be a bellwether year for 3D printing as it continues to migrate from industry to consumers. Staples added in-store 3D printing for the 2012 holidays, and more retailers are likely to follow suit. Companies like MakerBot are selling desktop 3D printers for the home that start below $1,000, and we’ve seen several services such as Sculpteo (sculpteo.com/en) that allow consumers to upload their images to be turned into unique 3D printed items.
The potential of 3D printing is, if its boosters are to be believed, nothing short of revolutionary and goes far beyond the photo merchandise market. Suffice it to say, the future for this tech has arrived and the creative possibilities are limitless.
Polaroid Presents the Fotobar
To say lots has gone on with Polaroid in the last several years would be an understatement. Let’s see, the company took a left turn on the digital imaging revolution, went bankrupt, came back from that and went bankrupt again.
Things appear to be looking up as Polaroid has come to market with several interesting photo products, chief among them the interchangeable-lens Android camera—and now the partnership with the creators of the Fotobar. This planned chain of retail stores centers on allowing (and more important encouraging) customers to come in and turn their mobile pictures into all manner of photo merchandise. The first Fotobar opened in Delray Beach, Florida, and the goal’s to open 10 additional locations throughout the U.S. before year’s end.
The main idea is to open people’s eyes to all the incredible things they can do with images after they’ve captured them—with particular focus on mobile images—something the imaging industry kind of lost touch with many years ago.
The idea of getting people excited about doing things with their images, other than posting them to Facebook, is certainly nothing new, but a chain of retail locations where the focus is solely on this endeavor is worth paying close attention to.
Facebook Print Option Coming?
And last, we’re seeing several companies jump into output partnerships with Facebook. The most recent is Belgium-based Deutsche Post DHL and their new service for Facebook users dubbed the Social Memories app. It gives users a unique way to keep track of their otherwise fleeting Facebook data: a customized book that compiles their social network data and visualizes it with photos and infographics.
The book transforms users’ social network information into a lasting memory. Social Memories was developed together with the agency Cosalux and is offered to Facebook users globally. The app can be found at facebook.com/socialmemories.
The rumor mill now seems to center around Facebook offering their own print service to users that would potentially include photo books, greeting/holiday cards and the like, with some industry pundits claiming such a service could be released by the end of this year. This is certainly worth keeping an eye on, as the race for consumer’s photo merchandise dollars appears to be ramping up.