- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Jesse Eisenberg came within a technological whisker of losing all her honeymoon snapshots. The 31-year-old lawyer’s digital images, stored on an online photography site, vanished while she was in the hospital this winter having her first child. She had given up hope of retrieving them when they suddenly reappeared on her computer more than a month later.

“I can’t believe we got them back,” she said. “Oh my God, I’m going to be printing all day today.”

It’s a refrain that sets the photo industry’s heart racing.

As the digital revolution sidelines film, the photo industry is having to rely more heavily on services and supplies that go into making prints.

Yet the picture is not quite as it seems.

While there is no hint of a falloff in the desire of Americans to freeze-frame the world around them, the overall number of images converted into prints has been slipping in the past several years.

The drop-off coincided with the lightning-quick transition to a world without film. A few years ago, there wasn’t a framework in place to help digital shutterbugs print easily or cheaply.

Digital cameras are now in an estimated 43 million homes in America, and that 40 percent penetration could reach 70 percent by 2007. The more mainstream they become, some analysts argue, the more likely that old printing habits will re-establish themselves.

“Everybody treasures memories, and what makes memories more vivid than a photograph, a print?” said Ulysses Yannas of Buckman, Buckman & Reid in New York.That impulse, he thinks, “will not fade; it’s human nature.”

Bolstering Mr. Yannas’ belief is a recent frenzy of acquisitions of online photo start-ups, which are projected to churn out 700 million prints this year, up from 400 million in 2004.

Others dismiss the notion of shoe boxes filling to the brim again as wishful thinking.

“The pie isn’t necessarily going to get any bigger,” said Frank Baillargeon, an industry consultant in Eagle, Idaho. “But the pie is going to be sliced up in many, many different ways.

“In the digital era, you can see your pictures immediately, share them instantaneously, store them in a variety of arguably safe ways and print them selectively. My children’s generation is so comfortable with technology that the need to just have a print in your hand or in a shoe box doesn’t sound like a very compelling proposition.”

Manufacturers such as Eastman Kodak Co. say the meteoric rise of camera phones could turn the lucrative print business into a growth market again, potentially within two years.

Aside from rushing higher-resolution cameras, speedier printers, fancier software and all-purpose kiosks into the marketplace, they are employing marketing tricks to mold consumer habits and transform electronically stored images into prints of all varieties.

Their campaigns run from scaring consumers about the perils of letting pictures languish on computers that might crash to behavior-reinforcing TV ads by Kodak in which new digital patrons shout, “Where are my pictures?”

In the United States, prints ordered from retailers and Web sites or made at home fell from a peak of 30.3 billion in 2000 to 27.4 billion in 2004 and could dip to 25.9 billion this year, according to Photo Marketing Association International, a trade group in Jackson, Mich.

Propelled by price wars among retailers led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Inc. and online upstarts such as Snapfish and Shutterfly.com, prints from digital cameras could reach 7.7 billion this year, up from 400 million in 2000, and outnumber prints from film cameras by 2007.

“You’ve got the mass market going digital now, and they care about prints more than ever before,” said Raj Kapoor, co-founder of Snapfish, a 13-million-member online pioneer just bought by Hewlett-Packard Co., a leader in the ink-jet photoprinter market.

While electronic storage “is a great way” to share and save images, consumers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls, cautioned Walter Haug, of Fuji Photo Film Co.

“Hard drives can crash, people sometimes misplace their CDs, media cards can become vulnerable,” he said. “If you’re relying strictly on digital methods, you may end up with a problem.”

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