What the Photo Industry Can Teach Publishers about Digital Printing
The photo industry may not seem like a likely source of insight for book publishers, but its transformation in the 1990s has a few lessons worth noting, as Publerati founder Caleb Mason observes in his September blog post. In-store photo kiosks-the instant photo printing machines that now occupy nearly every department store and pharmacy in the U.S.-bear more than a passing resemblance to print on demand book machines, writes Mason, a former photo industry professional himself. The disruption that the kiosks brought to legacy photoprinting labs may point to a similar upheaval for booksellers and publishers.
Back in 1995 when I worked in the photo industry, where the existing infrastructure in 35mm film, cameras, and long-life photo paper worldwide amounted to billions of dollars, many of the people working in that industry were dismissive of digital photography and the future of print-on-demand retail kiosks. The costs were prohibitive, the machines were too expensive and unreliable, and retailers would not want them. The list of reasons denying their future viability was extensive.
Today, one finds tens of thousands of these machines in chain drugstores, supermarkets, and mass merchants, albeit producing far fewer prints than in the 35mm heyday of wholesale photofinishing labs pumping out 50,000 rolls a night, guaranteed next-day or free just to add to the pressure. Back then, research showed the typical consumer was pleased with three good prints out of a roll of thirty-six (talk about progress, now they can see what they are getting before printing). That was a lot of photos that went directly into the trash or were stuffed under the bed in a shoebox, before ending up in the trash when future generations wondered just who the hell everyone was back then and why anyone would care.
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Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.