Consumer Printing Habits: The Big Shift is On

Consumer Printing Habits: The Big Shift is On

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The time has finally come when average consumers, on some levels, are behaving like professional photographers (shooting more, printing only what’s good), which, as we all know, has hurt the traditional 4×6” print business. But all is not lost as consumers are finding new and creative ways to view and share their pictures.

According to Steve Giordano, Jr., President, Lucidiom, “There’s been a shift in what people do with their images. Used to be, you had to print all your pictures because you had no other way to see them.” Now, he notes, thanks to digital imaging, consumers are taking more pictures, but they’re only printing the ones they really like. “What retailers need to focus on is not making [consumers] buy double or single prints or even a CD, but allowing them to express themselves by whatever means they want to with their pictures,” states Giordano. “Sometimes they may not want 4×6 prints; they may just want a poster or a greeting card of one image, or a photo book of a birthday party.”

Lucidiom, notes Giordano, recommends retailers provide those choices—to be their customers’ personal publisher and offer those “social expression” products. “We help [retailers] through marketing, point-of-sale marketing and driving awareness through e-mail campaigns. We also help via general industry knowledge—sharing through industry groups, coaching retailers, and talking to customers—not about the photo category anymore, but the social expression category.”

What is the social expression category? “It’s a My Space/Facebook thing,” explains Giordano. “Everybody wants to tell their story their way whether it’s through 4×6” prints or through a photo book they can share. Consumers today really want to be unique.”

Consumer Psyche

Giordano says the biggest misconception the industry makes, especially by those who are technically savvy, is misunderstanding the consumer psyche. Though industry people believe the easiest, most convenient way to order prints and other products is via a home computer, perhaps while eating brownies in their underwear, the average consumer (the working mom) doesn’t see it quite that way.

“Most women these days have more than one job,” states Giordano. “They’re working, but they’re also the mother and the wife and they have a lot of responsibilities. When they get off work they pick the kids up, go to soccer practice, get home and make dinner, etc. By 9 p.m. the last thing they want to do is get on the computer and learn to upload photos onto the Internet. It’s not about convenience for most consumers.”

American consumers, says Giordano, really prefer to get out of the house and shop. They’re tired of being cooped up inside with screaming kids and a house full of chores that need doing. “When (consumers) leave the house to make a photo book or 4×6” print, they’re out of the house, away from the kids, and they’re doing something for themselves,” he states. “But they don’t have a guilty conscience because they’re the family archivist. They’re doing it for the family and themselves simultaneously.

“That’s the win-win of kiosks. It gets them out of the house, plus, the Internet is still intimidating for most people. It’s not the Internet itself,” he explains, “it’s getting an image from the camera, putting it in the computer, finding it again, and putting it on a Web site and remembering the password. All that stuff is very complicated verses taking a camera to the store and making a book where there are people that can help. We’re a service-based society—we don’t change our own oil, we don’t make our own sandwiches for lunch. Half of us don’t even cook at night anymore. I think the kiosk is more effective mainly because it fits the American psyche more,” concludes Giordano. Now that consumers have discovered other ways to express themselves through photography, what product(s) will replace the 4×6” print, if any? “As a company” states Lucidiom’s Giordano, “we believe there are no more hits or blockbusters. But if I had to hit the one homerun, I’d say it’s seasonal. During this time of year (summer), photo books are the new 4×6. Photo books,” he says, “are growing by leaps and bounds. If you talk to retailers that have gotten into it, they’ll tell you their volume is growing at a very stable pace. However, at Christmas time, the calendar is the rock star.”

Again, the idea of photo imaging today is all about social expression. “We’re no longer really talking about printing pictures,” says Giordano, “we’re talking about telling stories. That’s what most photo (industry) people miss about the My Space/Face Book phenomenon. We all feel like we’re special and we have a unique story to tell.”

Decline of Home Printing

“Five years ago the digital photography market was still relatively new,” states David Haueter, Associate Director, Photo Printing Trends, InfoTrends, “and at that time we were seeing more consumers printing at home. When digital cameras came out, many home printer vendors were quick to make some tweaks to their existing printer lines and make them more appealing for photography with mounted card readers on board and LCD displays.

“The home printer vendors were actually quicker to respond to the market than retail and online vendors were,” admits Haueter. “The home printing market had a couple of good growth years, but in the last three years we’ve seen more print volume switching to retail print methods. I think pricing is one reason for the switch; it’s still quite a bit more expensive to produce a print at home than it is at retail (between 20 and 30 cents per print at home).

“We think most consumers now have a pretty good handle on what it costs. It’s cheaper to print at retail and consumers are getting used to printing digital the way they used to print with film,” explains Haueter. “A few years ago they were still unsure of how (digital) worked. But there’s been more education in the market from retailers over the last few years so more people are going to a kiosk and ordering prints or handing their memory card to the salesperson.”

Haueter expects the home printing market to drop from about 44 percent print volume (last year) to about 33 percent in 2010. “We think most people will continue to use a variety of methods (to view/print images) depending on their situation. If they need two or three prints right away, they’ll do it at home. For vacation pictures where they may need 40 or 50 prints, they’ll go to a retailer or online.” Hence, InfoTrends is now seeing more printer vendors focusing on productivity features such as document feeders and faxes, rather than photo. “They see they’re losing some of the print volume, so they’re trying to get more documents printed from home.”

As for the future, InfoTrends expects more volume to continue to go to retail. “Last year, around 45 percent of prints were made at retail (that includes prints ordered online and picked up at retail). We expect that to grow to about 56 percent by 2010.” Haueter says ordering online and picking up in-store is one method that is seeing stronger growth in than the rest of the market. Consumers that go to Wal-Mart’s site and then pick up orders the next time they’re in the store also avoid shipping costs and lines at kiosks. “Our overall forecast has the market peaking around 2011, and it’s only modest growth between now and then (with about 22 billion prints per year).”

Overall Market Impact

According to InfoTrends, the whole market will be impacted by all the other available methods for viewing and sharing photos. “When we ask people what they expect their print volume to be in the next two years, they say they expect it to remain the same or increase a little.” But when asked an open-ended question such as, “What do you want to do in the future?” Haueter says prints are way down on the list. Consumers would prefer to view photos on television or via digital frames. “In their minds,” he explains, “consumers are thinking they want to try the new ways of viewing and sharing photos, but they don’t really expect to do it in the next couple years.”

What will motivate consumers? “We think there is going to be big growth in merchandise, particularly photo books. Consumers will start printing photo books instead of traditional print albums. Instead of saving all their prints from the summer and putting them into album sleeves, they’ll print a photo book that says ‘Summer of 2008,’ etc., and put it on a shelf like an album. There’s still a very small percentage of the population that has tried/produced photo books,” notes Haueter. “There’s still a lot of confusion in the market as to how to do it. However, we think there will be continued growth as people become more aware of it through word of mouth. We’re seeing more retailers with the capacity to produce books in-store, which may help to drive growth in that part of the market.”

Of course, these new ways to view and share photos still raises the question of storage. Haueter asks, if people start producing books instead of prints (which may not be printed on archival paper), what will happen to those images down the road? “The idea we have is to make a photo book with a sleeve or insert in the back to hold a flash drive with all the prints on it. If friends see the book and want a copy of a print, they know exactly where it is. And,” he notes, “prints actually make a better archival source.”

New Opportunities

Retailers that want to make the most of today’s imaging options should utilize displays and communicate more with their customers. “We’re seeing more retailers focus on product,” concludes InfoTrends’ Haueter. “It’s a good way to maintain print business, though, as far as volume, it will never be where it was with film. However, merchandise is a good way to make up for some of the loss.”

According to Lucidiom’s Giordano, “The more you can communicate with your customers the better. A lot of people still make 4×6” prints because that’s all they know how to do. They’re still intimidated by the creative process; and a lot of people don’t get creative because they don’t feel they are creative.”

To help customers discover their inner muse, Lucidiom encourages retailers to put a quote book next to every kiosk. “It will inspire your customers to do more,” says Giordano. “They can make a photo book and instead of coming up with a witisism on their own, they can quote Emerson.

“Also, display samples of different types of photo books. The important thing for retailers is not just to merchandise, but to communicate and educate that there is this different world out there. Saying ‘I love you’ on a card is great. But if you can add a quote by Emerson or Dickinson of whomever, with a picture of you and your wife, and then say ‘I love you’—it’s a little more special. That’s what people are looking to do today,” concludes Giordano, “even if they don’t do it yet.”

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