Whats in Store for Photo Storage?

Digital photo storage is more than film, and camera resellers would do well to mind the storage needs of their customers.

Digital cameras and other computer peripherals have found their way onto the shelves of retail photography stores big and small. However, in their transition from analog to digital imaging, these stores appear to be missing a golden opportunity: storage.

Reading the newspaper this morning, I found a full-page ad for a large, local photography store. There were some analog cameras, but dominating the product mix were digital cameras—some for consumers and even high-resolution models for prosumers. In addition, the store hawked a range of other digital peripherals, including photo inkjet printers, a projector and even a couple of slide scanners.

Missing from the advertisement was any mention of storage—nothing to indicate where camera customers store their pictures. Finally, rummaging through the stack of older issues awaiting the recycling truck, I discovered a couple of specials for SD memory cards. That was it.

There are a number of reasons for the dearth of storage marketing in retail photo shops, according to Edward Lee, director of Lyra Researchs Digital Photography Advisory Service. Lee said photographys analog roots have shaped the current retail scene and slowed recognition of some digital advantages by consumers and retailers alike.

"Retailers see the cards as the substitute for film, the new consumable, and card vendors have reinforced that notion," Lee said, pointing to the branding from manufacturers such as SanDisk, which calls its cards digital film."

"Photo retailers are all about teaching customers how to take a better photograph, rather than editing images in Photoshop," he continued. "For most people, hard disk storage is computer hardware, not a photographic product. These devices are out of the comfort level of photo retailers."

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At the same time, many of the advances of digital photography, such as easy editing, have been lost on most users. Only early adopters and advanced "imagers" want to manipulate photographs, he said.

"The mass-market consumers—the soccer parents—just want their pictures. For them, digital is just a substitute for film. Theres really no other benefit; they just want to take their film to the store, or their printer, and get their photos. Mass-market photography is a much different model from general computing," Lee said.

We can see this consumer-market influence in other imaging peripherals, such as color inkjet printers with built-in card slots that allow users print images directly. Or televisions with Memory Stick slots for displays of "slide" shows.

While I bow to Mr. Lees market wisdom, I believe photo retailers should embrace their digital future more fully. These companies and their customers could use more storage, way beyond the current sales of "film."

If memory cards are the new film, wouldnt consumers understand that small, easy-to-use USB 2.0 or FireWire hard drives are the new photo albums? Or if we consider that the popular CD-R/RW discs are the digital photo album, perhaps a hard drive is that big cardboard box in the closet with all the old photos in their paper sleeves.

Even more, the camera stores would a good place to provide customers with "education" about small network-attached storage units and the home networking that should go with it. Folks would have the chance to see such a storage solution in action with a "critical" application. While these demos might be wasted on the soccer parents, perhaps retailers could hook the early adopters whose opinion is key to any technology category.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.