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Plenty of pictures, not enough prints!

July 1, 2010: When we look at the picture making and sharing aspects of the 2010 Australian Consumer Imaging Report, it’s a good story for optimists and a grim one for pessimists!

The report was based on a questionnaire jointly designed by PMA and PICA, and conducted by the Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash University. Responses came from an online panel of 2000 Australian households. The data is then sent to PMA in Jackson where the data is developed into the finished report.

The producers of the report make some strategy suggestions for the mass and specialty channels. They identify photo cards as the driver for growth in digital photo printing revenue and say that the success of this ‘is rooted in the transition of stationery, greetings, and expressions products to on-demand platforms, already under way.’

Why photo cards are suddenly flavour of the month is not made clear – the data doesn’t indicate a mass uptake by consumers from 2009 to 2010.

The mass channel is seen by the market research arm of PMA as having a great opportunity to expand what it sees as this looming increase in demand for photo cards into a year-round activity. At present most photo card-making is centred on Christmas cards (reflecting greeting card purchase patterns for conventional greeting cards)..

Why this is not also an opportunity for specialty retailers is not made clear.

Instead, specialty retailers get to own the inkjet printer category in the report’s suggestions: With home printing continuing to be a popular way for consumers to make photographs, the report talks up the opportunity for specialty stores to sell large-format photo printers and consumables to photo enthusiasts, noting that this category has been largely unexploited.

Mixed picture

The photo industry appears to have done an indifferent job of persuading consumers to preserve their pictorial memories, with 85 percent of those surveyed saying they store their images primarily on a computer hard drive, followed by external hard drives. Printing comes in a lowly fifth as a means of long-term storage (27 percent) with 9 percent nominating photo books.

However, the picture possibly isn’t as grim as the chart indicates, as those surveyed were able to nominate more than one option. So some consumers are using multiple means of storing at least some of their pictures – maybe keeping most of their pictures on the computer hard drive, but printing the most valuable of them.

So the challenge of getting more images from the PC onto hard copy possibly isn’t as intractable as it first appears.

On the other hand, only 36 percent of households ever make hard copies of their images for reasons of long-term storage. There’s a tremendous opportunity for the photo industry to persuade at least a proportion of the majority who don’t yet understand the archival imperative for printing their valuable pictures to ‘come back to the fold’.

Unfortunately, the trend is in the reverse at present, with the percentage of households who have prints made from their digital camera images falling from 66 percent in 2008 to just 55 percent in 2010.

…But there’s plenty of picture-taking going on in Australia, according to the report. The median number of pictures taken per household is 345. Of those, consumers are keeping around 75 percent, and actually printing 100. This is not a million miles away from the level of print-making in the film era – but the return to the retailer has unfortunately plummeted due to downward pressure on print prices.

The positive story here is that a lot of people are taking a lot of pictures with their digital cameras and keeping most of them. Thus, there is a vast and growing reserve of digital image files out there. The photo industry needs to persuade their owners to do something at a PC or a photo store to unlock the value inherent in them.

When the report looked at pictures taken with camera phones, it’s a far less impressive story, with the median number of camera phone pictures taken just 30, only 58 percent kept, and a meagre 20 of those images made into prints by the sub-set of folk who actually take pictures with their camera phone.

Dealing with photo cards

While the report seem to be preoccupied with the value photo cards represents to the industry, the percentage of households who actually made one over the past 12 months rose from 7 percent to 9 percent, with DSLR owners far more likely to do so. The number of households who made photo books doubled in the same time frame, albeit off a low base of 4 percent, to 8 percent. Once again, DSLR users are more likely to make photo books.

Other than personalised photo calendars, made by just over 6 percent of households, no other product in the broad photo gifting category achieved more than 5 percent.

The full report is available free to PMA members from the PMA website, and can be purchased by non-members for $249. Photo Counter thanks PMA for providing a copy for the preparation of this article.

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