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Photo Printing is Dead! Long Live Photo Printing

- 7 years ago

Back in the old days, when shooting photos using analogue film, you had zero choice but to get your photos printed. It completed the cycle and gave a definite, physical end to the journey, revealing the pictures that you [likely vaguely] remember taking. Without reaching this stage of the analogue process, your pictures would simply remain as negatives.

Today we can all take pictures with our smartphones and see them instantaneously, which is great, right? Perhaps, but what does this mean for our beloved photo printing industry and our beloved printed image?

From my time working in photo retail, I can say with authority, that plenty of photo enthusiasts really care about having the best camera they can afford. That said, with the evolution of camera tech in smartphones improving every year, there has been an undeniable dent made in the overall photo industry, but, and there is a but, lots of people believe that mobile phone cameras simply aren’t, or haven’t been, fit for purpose when it comes to ‘real’ photography.

Most can’t optically zoom, they can’t handle low light conditions or print to a reasonable size without displaying jpeg artefacts or noise grain and this is where the solus camera holds its own.

Pretty much every modern camera, from the compact to CSC, to DSLR, now features built-in Wi-Fi and NFC capability. This means that users can now pair their cameras to their smartphone without the need for a laptop or extra software or gadgets to carry with them. Most digital cameras now offer the option to choose photos and save them directly to a phone [or other mobile devices] to share on social media. All very nice, but none of this solves the issue of getting photos processed, does it?

Before my time working in a camera shop, I was not a photo printer. I mean, I didn’t print photos. In fact, I’d never really thought about it

Before my time working in a camera shop, I was not a photo printer. I mean, I didn’t print photos. In fact, I’d never really thought about it and I guess, mainly as I fall into that post-digital age bracket commonly referred to as ‘The Millennials’.

So, as an ignorant 17-year-old, I stepped onto the shop floor for the first time as a sales assistant, to be informed by my manager that photo printing was one of the most popular, most profitable services in store. I wasn’t buying it, but it’s one thing hearing and quite another witnessing it first hand.

Cutting a long story short, I learned quickly as I began spending more time helping customers using the shop’s photo kiosks than I did selling cameras. On top of regular printing, we had photo gifts, these gifts ranged from keyrings to 20×30” canvases, which were all made in store. All hugely popular and offering significantly greater margins that those that could be made selling camera hardware.

Then, most people who came in to print their photos, printed from cameras and smartphones at around a 50/50 spilt. The most popular size prints were 6×4’’ and [our] average customer would print anywhere between 5-200 photos. Most high yield orders would come from customers who were printing from [actual] cameras, and the lower numbers from customers printing from smartphones. These observations took place back in 2014/15 and now, with added built-in Wi-Fi in cameras, the balance has shifted with more people printing from phones, leaving their cameras at home.

To bolster this, and as smartphones have got smarter, photo-printing-specific apps have grown in numbers and in functionality. These days there are loads of apps on the market that allow you to choose the photos you want to print and have them mailed directly to your home. Apps like FreePrints, LALALAB, Photobox and Snapfish are all free for IOS and Android devices. Other apps have now materialised from some of the old guard too, with Fujifilm and Kodak having made it to the party and further proving the burgeoning trend and demand.

More proof of this comes in the form of the Amazon getting in on the printing market, announcing Amazon Prints late in September 2016

More proof of this, if it were needed, comes in the form of the internet retail monolith, Amazon getting in on the printing market, announcing Amazon Prints late in September 2016.

Kodak’s recent ad for the ‘Moments’ mobile application

So, is photo printing a thing of the past? The answer is definitely not; if anything, the market has learned to evolve and grow and consumer appetite, whilst not driving the volumes of print that existed in the pre-digital era, is still strong and getting stronger. Seemingly by the day.

Fresh mobile software coupled with increasingly powerful sensors in mobile devices, is leading to some interesting and innovative photo potential

There was a time when the transition from analogue to digital imaging was confusing and perhaps seen as a choice of either/or, in terms of the printed image. Now, though, it’s definitely back and it’s evident by the volume of solutions that have entered the market alongside companies like Jessops and Amazon making significant investments into the photo-printing market. They simply wouldn’t bother if they didn’t see the demand and didn’t think they could turn a profit.

What I learned from this is that people are still genuinely in love with the printed image. They cherish the physical print and greater numbers of people are either discovering or rediscovering the process. All made simpler by the incredible devices and tech around them, and by people who want to sell prints to them.

People like me!

About the author

Read Photo Printing is Dead! Long Live Photo Printing

Simon Skinner

Co-founder // Editor

Having spent many years working in various pockets of the music industry, and always with a camera in hand, Simon has worked with organisations such as Warner/Chappell, Food Records and ultimately, co-founding the innovative independent record label, Izumi Records before moving fully into the world of publishing in 2007. Amongst numerous other projects in the last decade, he has been responsible for a number of specialist photo trade magazines and journals for the filmmaking and photography communities, along with a coffee table book entitled, "Great Britons of Photography' which he produced with Peter Dench and Leica. Now heading up PhotoBite, Simon and the team have set themselves a task of delivering informative and inspirational content for photographers of all levels, from the beginner, shooting with smartphones, to the seasoned photographer and filmmaker.