Friday, March 31, 2006

Observations: Photo Printing in Focus

The Hard Copy Observer, March 2006

In February, Jim Lyons, a 25-year veteran of the printing and imaging industry, traveled to Orlando, FL, for the annual PMA trade show. Digital photography was a mere blip on the radar screen 10 years ago, but it now plays a major role in the printing industry and in our daily lives. This month, Jim examines the evolution of digital photography, the PMA trade show, and the vendors that participate in this market.

Although there is no official designation, the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show, held annually at the end of February, marks the end of the winter trade show season. In my initial column in the December 2005 Hard Copy Observer, I pointed out some of the changes that have occurred in our imaging industry over the last 10 years. No change has been more dramatic than the influence of digital photography, and nowhere is this transformation more evident than at the annual PMA trade show.

Ten years ago, most manufacturers of printing hardware could barely spell PMA, much less actually bother to attend the event. Although the Photo Marketing Association’s roots go back to 1930, it wasn’t until 1997 that the association’s show merited its first significant coverage in The Hard Copy Observer. That year, HP had a “little booth in the center of the floor” at the PMA show where it introduced its first Photosmart products to the photography industry (Observer, 4/97). The announcement of the first Photosmart products garnered ten-plus pages of analysis in the Observer, a large amount of real estate then or now. A look back at the announcement reveals some interesting ways in which market dynamics have changed and some striking similarities between the 1997 and 2006 shows.

Proving the often-heralded assertion that the more things change, the more they stay the same, Vyomesh Joshi was a key HP spokesperson at the 1997 show, then in his role as general manager of HP’s Home Imaging Division. Today, of course, “VJ” Joshi is head of HP’s Imaging and Printing Business. He was one of several industry executives to deliver keynote addresses at this year’s PMA. Joshi waxed enthusiastically about the future of digital photography (then called “PC photography”) in 1997, and he continues to do so in 2006.

One major change to the imaging industry over the last decade is the shifting of alliances as industry participants struggle to stake their claim of the digital photo-printing market. In its coverage of HP’s first-ever Photosmart products, the Observer noted, “HP and Kodak are jointly developing new PhotoSmart papers as well as new photographic media for the DeskJet line.” At the time, HP touted its partnership with Kodak as a big credibility boost for its entry into the photo-printing market. Over the intervening years, Kodak has remained a looming presence at the show as it has every year since 1930, while HP’s “little booth” has transformed to one of the biggest on the floor. At this year’s event, there were no joint HP/Kodak announcements to be seen or heard. It is an understatement to say that the two companies have developed into intense rivals in the digital photography space.

A look at the other exhibitors on the show floor raises the question, in my mind anyway, about the presence of all the digital players. Have they barged their way in and transformed (or even ruined) what had been a show clearly defined as serving a trade association of photo retailers—that is, “mom and pop” camera stores? My response to that question is that PMA is a well-run show, with crowds of enthusiastic participants, and the idea that it’s being “overrun” with new players is far from the truth. Along with HP and Kodak, the list of major exhibitors includes Canon, Epson, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, and Sony—hardly an all-new cast of characters in the photography business. All vendors have adopted a huge digital push—that’s really not even worth mentioning in 2006—but the healthy ones, anyway, are still leading the photographic industry in both capture (cameras and scanners) and output.

What does the future hold? As you will read throughout the show stories elsewhere in this issue, major printing vendors are launching new technology in the digital photography market first. And with its ever-expanding product line appealing to one photo niche or another, is HP “trying to be the next Kodak” as Citibank Analyst Matt Troy asserted in a New York Times preview of this year’s PMA show?

We shall see, but the PMA crowd’s influence on printing and the hard copy business is enormous today and will certainly grow in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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