Retailers have been reaping rewards from the digital camera market for at least 10 years and can expect those sales to continue. Many people are onto their second and third generation cameras and sales have doubled within two years to hit almost 2 million in 2005. A third of all adults in Australia own one. If you include mobile phones in the mix, some of which include three megapixel cameras, penetration is almost 100 per cent. Volume isn't the only thing on the rise. Prices may have dropped but the value of sales grew 9.4 per cent in 2005 to $471 million.
Despite the good news on sales, resellers shouldn't focus too heavily on the initial deal because the really exciting opportunities are happening in the photo finishing arena. Photo printer sales and multifunction devices experienced serious growth last year, with second half figures up by 38.4 per cent for photo printers and 31.1 per cent for multi-function devices when compared to the same period of 2004. Harvey Norman has seen revenue this quarter jump by 18.5 per cent, which is partly attributed to higher sales of digital imaging technology.
The beauty of the photo finishing market for resellers is that it is performing strongly despite a distinct lack of consumer understanding when it comes to production possibilities. Buying a camera and reading the manual may result in a lot of excellent digital images passively taking up space on hard drives, but in our digital excitement we seem to have forgotten that the actual photos and how we use them are an important part of the equation. This all translates into sales prospects for those who can help customers navigate the sometimes treacherous digital photography waters.
To do this, and further leverage the already attractive digital finishing market, resellers need to involve customers in the whole gamut of digital photography, a significant task given the existing barriers.
"In general, people aren't making the most of their digital cameras. Most people start out with the idea of printing at home but, unfortunately, they end up just storing images on their computer. Only a minority go all the way through to digital slide shows," Brisbane College of Photography, Samantha Lee, said.
Sociological research estimates we are taking 10 times more pictures now than in the days of film. Yet far less pictures are getting printed. According to Lee, most people aren't even using CD burners and taking photos to digital printers. Although it's easy to email them, set up a slide show to run through your television, upload them to an online site, organise albums and store them on CDs or an external hard drive, digital photographers seem to be simply downloading them onto their hard drives and storing them in folders. That's a risky strategy to employ for something so precious.
Marketing manager for Canon's Consumer Imaging Products Group, Stuart Poignand, said the barriers to consumers fully exploiting the boundaries of digital photography were bad experiences and poor knowledge about the options available.
"People would look at the $200,000 film lab and then at their home printer and wouldn't believe you could get lab quality photos at home," he said. "There were issues, but these were mainly caused by using the wrong paper."
General manager of Harvey Norman's computer and communications division, Rutland Smith, suggested a more generalist approach.
"The number one issue the industry faces is working together to educate consumers about how to get images printed," he said. "They are unaware of retail printing solutions and home solutions. It is still very confusing for the average customer."
No wonder. Photography used to be the realm of experts, a matter of taking a roll of film down to the local camera store, picking it up with a sense of excitement or dread, framing some, putting others in an album and stashing the rest in a shoebox in the cupboard. Sharing memories involved sending photos to the grandparents with a card or subjecting friends to album viewings - usually with a glass or two of wine as an incentive. There was very little involvement in the process beyond taking the photo.
Digital photography has revolutionised this, giving the photographer control over the process from beginning to end. But it seems a lot of us aren't ready for the responsibility and still require expert help. The problem is stores aren't doing it well.
"Options for the consumer can be overwhelming. Shops do their best but the technology changes so fast it can be hard to keep up," Brisbane College of Photography's Lee said. "Every day something new comes up and people get frustrated. For example, unless a computer and printer are set up properly to match, there can be colour issues. People just don't have enough information."