Correlates with the observations here in my town.
Lot's of local photo shops here had to give up during the period 2000 - 2006. But not only because of the digital flood, but also (probably mainly) because of the very strong competition of the new online distributors.
For the last years the number of the remaining shops is quite stable. They've found their strategies and niches to survive.
And one strategy is indeed offering quality prints:
Talked about that two years ago with the owner of my preferred local shop here. He told me that their in house Fuji Frontier minilab, and offering higher quality prints (with significant better quality than the prints from the mass labs / drug store chains) saved their business.
The customers appreciate the higher quality and are willing to pay more for it. Both the film and digital photographers.
And at the Photokina there was quite a few talks about seeing a little trend back to printed images.
The biggest European photofinisher / mass lab, CEWE Color, has reported slightly increasing numbers of prints (RA-4) in their latest quarterly reports (increasing numbers especially from digital files).
Herein lies the lesson for Kodak. If they hadn't abandoned marketing and advertising of film, they might never have had to go into bankruptcy during their transition to... to... to umm... whatever it is they are trying to become.
No one should mourn the loss of Ritz. In my area, they were dirtbag borderline criminals who had no clue and deserved to go down. Idiotic people working the store, pushing their junk quantanray (sp?) garbage lenses and other overpriced trinkets. At one point they had a good analog-based minilab, but it was overpriced, then they screwed the pooch by replacing it with some craptacular digital-based minilab, and their prints looked like shite. good riddance to those tossers.
I would not comment on their strategy (it is always easy to comment afterward) but I fully agree with the fact that quality and honest work are the way to keep customers. I remember years ago when I was shooting color negatives for the family, I chose the photo store because of the quality of the prints, not because they were close from home or the cheapest.
I have worked in a photolab for 14 years now and have seen many changes in our business. Its in a retail outlet, so the store helps us stay open. We still develop film (at a high cost) for the customer, but the bulk of the lab business is printing from digital prints. Here in Canada we do a lot of business printing orders compared to the US that does a fraction of our numbers. This has helped us stay open. Where in the USA you may print off low numbers of digital pictures per order, here in Canada we can at times do 10 times that much. We don't do much film at all these days, but still offer developing. We get more business from low end camera sales then photo developing. And we also do photogifts now which add to the sales. I don't know how many more years we have to stay open strictly as we are today, but I'm expecting at some point we'll shutter the Photolab business. And I'll be out looking for a new job. I keep my options open on that, but not planning on leaving just yet- unless a job comes available that I have interest in.
I shoot both digital and film today. I find film extremely expensive to develop compared to digital, so I use it for mainly important shoots or stuff I want slides or B&W for. I don't shoot C-41 anymore unless its 120 format.
'Smart' consumers rejoice. They don't have to pay for film, film processing, and prints anymore. They've been trained by media to believe this is a good thing. At first glance, it might seem that way - less cost once the initial investment was done to buy the camera. Many probably think they will 'print the good ones later', because they don't have to print them to see them anymore. So they take the inexpensive way out.
Like the article says, though, the question is whether people will miss having printed pictures or not in 20 years. It may be that the next generation thinks it's really strange to view photographs as printed matter. Time will tell.
Though my business would not fall strictly under Retail, my doors have been open to the public now twenty years. Changes are extreme , more so than when I was cutting my teeth working for photo labs here in Toronto.
When I first started my first mentor told me to find 20 clients and do the best work you can for them and you will survive.
So Braxus in British Columbia this 2 cents is for you to consider, when you are unsure where your company is going.
People always will require someone to take their images to a better level, therefore learn to be the best PS and technical printer able to work in various styles.
People will always want to hang their images on the wall... So learn how to frame and add that too your list of services.
People will always want to exhibit their work.. So at the front end of your shop have a gallery where artists can show their stuff.. hopefully printed and framed by you.
People will always want to bring up their past history, usually when they are hitting their 60's and have a bit of money to spend,, so learn how to scan old images and reproduce them in historic processes.
People will always want to go to a place where excellent photographers get their work done.. therefore be very decisive who you pick as clients...Yes pick your clients... and only
pick key clients you like working with and also like their work otherwise you will not enjoy your new seven day a week lifestyle.
I have surrounded myself with wonderfully talented people who are willing to take the business places I would never be able to go to . With a healthy relationship I can do what I want now that I am coming up to my 60'th birthday. I suspect I will move from Toronto to a smaller community and support my company where I can.
I am going to keep on working on being the best printer / framer I can be, by constantly taking workshops related to PS and alt printing.
I am going to reopen my gallery.. The Dylan Ellis Gallery.. and only represent archival printmaker/photographers whose work I respect and a few key clients I have been working on for 20 years.
The Dylan Ellis Gallery will be only interested in the Art Fairs in the major centers and my openings will be every 6-8 weeks showing the best work I can find out there.
I am going to exhibit my Wife and my Own work and hope to see some revenue from 20 years of exposing and printing, but there is no garuntee of the publics response to our work.
I am scanning collections and reproducing them on alternative processes to put in collections and promote my services on the net.
I will keep on hand picking key clients and hopefully make some right moves.
######I don't know how many more years we have to stay open strictly as we are today, but I'm expecting at some point we'll shutter the Photolab business. And I'll be out looking for a new job. I keep my options open on that, but not planning on leaving just yet- unless a job comes available that I have interest in.#####
So Braxus , 14 years in a photolab is a long time working for others, With equipment so cheap these days, on the used and new market I would say look at yourself and give it a go. I started Silver Shack when I was 40, the ability to work hard each day is my only endearing attribute. Learned that as a high lead logger on Vancouver Island.
Remember people will require photo services, but in the end it always boils down to a nice print, framed to the clients specs , hanging on a wall... Pretty simple if you think about it.
I worked for a group of ten retail photographic stores who managed to go bankrupt just before the advent of digital photography, mainly due to the idiocy and profligacy of the board of directors, not to mention the illegal practices that they indulged in that some of them were subsequently jailed for, which put over a hundred of their staff out of work.