Technology Puts A Happy Face On PMA

by Greg Scoblete On Jan 28 2008 - 8:00am

Roughly 20,000 attendees are expected to converge on the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 84th annual PMA 08 International Convention and Trade Show on Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.

Though it follows fast on the heels of International CES, the show will nonetheless boast a large number of digital camera and retail printing introductions since manufacturers like Canon, Sony, Fujifilm and others held their fire for the photo industry convention.

Face detection will loom large among the new camera introductions, as manufacturers roll out more advanced iterations of the technology. Several new models from Sony, for instance, can use face detection to distinguish between children and adults, or delay the moment of image capture until the child in the frame is smiling.

More sophisticated repeat purchasers are driving new technology, analysts say, as well as driving down the average selling price.

"With the clusters of digital cameras on the market boasting similar features … retail sales assistance at the time of the camera purchase, as well as targeted branding messages, will become critical in order to keep value, and therefore margins, up," said Liz Cutting, digital imaging analyst, The NPD Group.

Indeed, the strong unit growth in point-and-shoot digital still cameras driven by repeat buyers has been tempered by softening dollar sales, as full-year figures from NPD released last week show the category's dollar volume dropping one percent for 2007 on unit sales growth of 12 percent.

Digital SLRs, however, continued to enjoy strong growth in units (up 38 percent) and dollars (up 24 percent) in 2007. Other segments of the imaging industry enjoyed strong growth in 2007 as well. Full-year accessory sales were up 18 percent in units and 37 percent in dollars, and digital frames grew a whopping 361 percent in units and 314 percent in dollars according to NPD.

Though photo printing has returned decisively to retail, overall print volumes continue to decline in the wake of digital's ascendancy. When film prints are factored in, print volumes will decline from 25.6 billion in 2006 to a projected 21.9 billion in 2009.

Digital print volumes, however, are surging, having reached 14.5 billion in 2007 up from 12.2 billion in 2006, according to PMA.

The association expects volumes to reach 16.1 billion in 2008 and 17.9 billion in 2009 with much of the growth driven by online-to-mail and online-to-retail print ordering.

Though the absolute volume of digital prints continues to rise, consumers surveyed by the research firm InfoTrends indicated they were printing slightly fewer photos — just 25 percent of all their images compared with 27 percent in 2005. InfoTrends found that while consumers are showing less interest in traditional photographic pastimes, there is greater interest in electronic viewing (on frames and TVs) as well as in making photo merchandise.

Monetizing these digital images remains a key industry challenge, said Simon Bryant, consumer electronics and digital imaging business director, Understanding and Solutions. In 2000, the industry earned $0.25/image captured but only $0.12 /image in 2007, Byrant noted.

That figure is projected to increase slightly, to $0.14/image by 2011, thanks to stabilizing print prices in the 4-inch by 6-inch market, the growth of high resolution cellphones, strengthened photo specialty chains and the growth in online/mobile subscriptions and services. "The latter two points are partly an unknown at this stage so the $0.14 represents a worst-case scenario," Bryant added.

Capitalizing on the need to archive images is another pressing concern, Cutting observed. "The photo industry must make consumers aware that image printing and storage are as important as the camera the images are taken on."

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