Film May Be Dead, but Print is Alive and Well

According to The NPD Group, instant print cameras saw U.S. dollar growth of over 30 percent in 2017, while detachable lens and digital point-and-shoot cameras have experienced unit declines

It may come as a surprise to younger photographers, but until very recently it was still possible to buy a Canon DSLR for film photography. The Japanese camera giant ceased production of the EOS-1v all the way back in 2010 and has been slowly selling out its stock ever since. The sale of the very last EOS-1v exemplifies how major camera manufacturers continue adapting to the digital age.

But photographic printing is very much still alive. According to The NPD Group, instant print cameras saw U.S. dollar growth of over 30 percent in 2017, while detachable lens and digital point-and-shoot cameras have experienced unit declines. In fact, U.S. dollar sales of instant print cameras were 28 percent higher last December than December 2016 and sold 2.7 times more units than digital point-and-shoot cameras.

Around the same time, it was killing off film, Canon announced its new IVY Mini Photo Printer, with a major marketing push that makes it clear who the core audience are. Packaging decorated with happy young people, available in iPhone style Rose Gold and with Bluetooth and other options for smartphone connectivity, the IVY is clearly shooting for generation Instagram. 85% of all photographs taken today will be on a smartphone, and Ivy is a clear play to put Canon products in the hands of mobile consumers.

A smartphone photography accessory that lets enthusiastic Instagrammers print photos for lasting memories is poised to be a winner. Gifting a printed photo to your girlfriend, grandad or work friends expresses a lot more care than sharing on Facebook. But IVY's popularity is likely to depend on the technology's ease-of-use.

Home photo printers have been with us since the 1990s and remain a viable niche market. But the scaled down printer technology is always a compromise, especially when awkward, small capacity ink cartridges are factored in. A technology that encapsulates the entire printing process in a truly mobile package was needed, and that technology was ZINK Zero Ink.

ZINK is a "zero ink" printing technology, originally developed in the Polaroid labs, and spun into an independent company in 2005. It bears some resemblance to the photographic process Polaroid became famous for, with everything needed to print an image embedded in the ZINK paper itself. Consumers are drawn to devices like the Canon’s Ivy and the Kodak Printomatic for quality and convenience: they don’t require ink and allow devices maintain their compact size to fit in a pocket; and printed photos don’t need to dry before handling. Again, all the user needs is ZINK paper; ink cartridges, toner and the like are not required. And with an initial retail of 50 cents per print regardless of quantity purchased, the attraction of affordable, consumer-friendly instant printing is understandable.

Canon isn’t the only manufacturer packaging ZINK into the perfect accessory for budding Instagram stars. Polaroid, Kodak, HP and LG are among the global manufacturers that also have an array of ZINK-powered instant cameras and mobile printers.

But what is important to note, is that demand for digital and instant printing extends beyond consumer markets. Boardroom dramas suggest that digital printing is a major part of the forward-looking strategy for the big camera manufacturers. Fujifilm’s long planned takeover of Xerox was a clear indication that it was looking at a slew of print technologies to increase marketshare. The intervention of activist investor Carl Icahn, forcing the abandonment of the $6.1 BN deal as “undervalued”, confirms that print has a major part to play.

Opening up a new B2C market by selling accessories like the IVY to generation Instagram is one reason for power struggles over print. But the B2B market is worthy of our attention. The primary business printer market is dying as tablets takeover everywhere. But that’s likely to leave a substantial secondary market of the tasks screens can’t always replace. Mailing labels, name badges and more, made on mobile printers you can carry to the coffee shop, or out to a conference venue. It’s a market ZINK may have, literally, been made for.

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