Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Disintermediation and the future of the photo industry

Those two statements provide quite a constrast, and from that contrast, we can draw a conclusion. Basically, the old school photo industry is losing and they're not happy about it.

The problem for that industry (and the boon for consumers) is disintermediation. Back in the 1980s, I took hundreds of rolls of pictures each year, all using a film camera, of course. I was on a first-name basis with the tech at the Palo Alto Kodak photo lab. I must have spent thousands of dollars there, getting my pictures developed.

Now, of course, I can drop my 4GB Compact Flash card into my computer and read 2,000 JPEG pictures at once, right into the computer. The card cost me $144. By contrast, a 24 exposure roll of film costs about $5. Developing that roll costs about $7 at the local Walgreens. Using a film camera, it would cost about $1,000 for the film and processing of 2,000 pictures.

By contrast, I can reuse the Compact Flash card, where, with film, I'd have to spend another $1,000 to take another 2,000 pictures. If you look at the photo industry, you'll realize that all the film processing companies, chemical suppliers, labs, gear makers, and so forth are completely losing their value proposition.

No wonder these folks hate the Internet so much. Rather than using their labs, you can upload images to Kodak or Shutterfly, or any of the other services directly. You can share your pictures online with Flickr, so there's absolutely no need to process film to share pictures.

Some professional photographers apparently also hate the Internet. A few years ago, we published ZATZ Senior Editor James Booth's "Do-It-Yourself Wedding Photography" book. Douglas Dailey, a professional photographer, sent us this note:

As a professional wedding photographer for 23 years, I want to express my dismay that your company would stoop to such a greedy low position and advertise a book on do it yourself wedding photography. Yes, just $19.95 and no experience and you can do your own root canal surgery also. Couples spend thousands on the hall, food, etc. And many memories are only preserved on photographs IF they are captured by someone with experience, and that doesn't mean thousands of dollars either. I will make certain I am off your email list.
Grow up!

You can see Douglas' concern. If we publish a book (incidentally, our #2 best-selling book of all time) that lets you take wedding pictures without his services, he's out of a job.

The thing is, this is incredibly short-sighted. I'll use my own wedding as an example. I'm a very experienced photographer, but Denise and I chose to hire a pro to take our pictures. We could afford it, and wanted the experienced wedding photographer. We haven't had a single regret. The photographer knew how to pose us, put us at ease, and compose great shots. It was well worth the cost.

But what about those couples who can't afford a photographer? Shouldn't they have the opportunity to do their best, capturing their own images? By publishing this book, we're not declaring a law preventing professional photographers from charging for their services. We're just giving alternatives.