Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Disintermediation and the future of the photo industry


By David Gewirtz

It's been busy here at Connected Photographer and we're still catching up. Last week, we went to two photo-related events, intending to cover all the excitement for the magazine. First up was DigitalFocus, an event designed exclusively to connect photo industry professionals with those of us in the press. The second was PMA, the big photo tradeshow from the Photo Marketing Association.

"The most exciting time for photography in history."

DigitalFocus rocked. It was quite small, with maybe 30 vendors in a small ballroom at the Dolphin Hotel in Walt Disney World. The purpose of this event was less to get immediate coverage for the vendors, but more to connect the vendors with the press. Not only was there great food (an important pre-requisite for quality journalism), but there were senior executives present from key vendors like Canon and Nokia.

On the other hand, PMA sucked.

Although we've been publishing Connected Photographer for a few years now, we've never done a PMA before. Everyone we'd ever talked to in the photo industry told us that PMA was the show.

And, I guess it is, at least for the old school photo industry. I have probably been to a thousand tradeshows in my career, covering mostly technology industry topics. I have never, ever been treated as rudely as I was at PMA. Managing Editor Denise Amrich reported similar behavior.

One company rep told her that since he'd never heard of Connected Photographer, he wasn't going to speak to her. I had a PR person from a camera company tell me that said company had (and I quote) "No use for online publications." The pleasant folks at Vivitar asked me to leave because (and, again, I quote), "We have real business to do here."

We send Connected Photographer to 300,522 opt-in readers each week. Now, admittedly, that's only about 65% of the total paid circulation of Popular Photography & Imaging, the world's oldest photo magazine. But they were established in 1937, so it took them 69 years to reach their level of subscribership. It took us two.

Before leaving for PMA each morning, I showered, put on a fresh aloha shirt, and even sucked on mints while on the show floor. So, most likely, it wasn't me. I was even mostly polite.

The real clues, I think, came in a discussion I had with a supplier to photo labs and another I had at DigitalFocus with Nokia. The lab supplier described the current market as "a depressing time for the photo industry." The three Nokia execs also described the market, but they called it "the most exciting time for photography in history."