Dec 1, 2004

Photo labs forced to fight growing digital popularity

Many businesses have decided to join the trend, offering digital printing and do-it-yourself kiosks.

By Nick Bunkley / The Detroit News

SOUTHFIELD -- Digital cameras have turned millions more Americans into shutterbugs in recent years, but Glenn Corcoran sees very few of them at his photo lab. Most simply print their photos at home instead or -- worse yet, he says -- simply view them on a computer and then hit delete.

It's not that Corcoran is unable to print digital photos at his store in Southfield. In fact, sensing the impending digital revolution in the late 1990s, he was one of the area's first independent photo finishers to buy an expensive digital photo printing machine.

But for all of his foresight, Corcoran has a tough time countering the deluge of ads by the Hewlett-Packard Co. and other printer makers telling consumers they can stop driving to stores and make their pictures at home instead.

Corcoran and Hewlett Packard are on opposite ends of a cutthroat battle for the growing number of amateur and professional photographers who now use memory cards instead of film to preserve memories of vacations, birthdays and T-ball games.

"They think printing the photographs at home is less expensive, and it is not," said Corcoran.

His store, The Photo Center, now prints about half as many pictures as it used to in the heyday of film.

"From a marketing standpoint, what (HP) did was brilliant," he said.

While the majority of digital images today are printed at home, experts say retailers like Corcoran could ultimately be the big winners as consumers grow weary of the costs and time involved in home printing. At the same time, home-printing technology continues to improve and new options become available.

"Consumers buy these cameras, and they don't realize how to get the pictures out," said Gary Pageau of the Photo Marketing Association in Jackson. A study released by IDC, a technology research firm near Boston, shows that 70 percent of digital camera users in 2003 printed their photos at home. Only 25 percent took their image files to a retailer for printing.

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