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____________________[PRO] Digital opportunities develop for tech groups

небольшой обзор рыночной ситуации в цифровой фотографии.

под катом вся статья из FT:
Digital opportunities develop for tech groups
By Scott Morrison
Published: January 11 2004

Take a snapshot of today's consumer photography market, print it on an ink jet and back it up on a CD for safe keeping. Five years from now, that snapshot will provide a dramatic look back at an industry in the throes of a fundamental transformation.

Once the domain of camera makers and film manufacturers, the consumer photography market is rapidly being overtaken by digitisation. And technology to convert images into bits and bytes has created new opportunities for companies such as Sony and Hewlett-Packard, groups that once had no business dabbling in photography.

As a result, the consumer photography market is melding with the computer industry and consumer electronics sector. But it is far from clear how the market will evolve and which companies will emerge on top.

"There are more players than the market can support. There's going to be a shake-out and it's going to be very dramatic," says Chuck Westfall, a director at Canon's consumer imaging group.

Perhaps the only certainty is that digital photography is here to stay. Digital camera sales pulled in $10bn in worldwide sales in 2003, while digital printing generated $4bn in revenues last year, according to IDC, the research group.

Excitement about digital photography has fuelled explosive growth in camera sales, while computer makers hope digital photography will help drive a PC upgrade cycle. Home printing has emerged as a key opportunity to exploit and film manufacturers are developing a retail printing infrastructure for digital processing.

Some, such as troubled Eastman Kodak, are trying to do it all. Digital photography has cut deeply into the group's film, paper and photo-finishing businesses, prompting the US corporate icon to focus on digital cameras, ink jet printers, printing supplies and retail services. But investors remain sceptical about its ability to catch up with fast-moving rivals.

Digital camera makers have gained most of the attention so far. Plummeting prices and dramatically improved picture quality have made digital cameras one of the hottest consumer electronics products in years.

InfoTrends, the research group, estimates that consumers will purchase nearly 54m digital cameras worldwide in 2004, outstripping for the first time sales of traditional film cameras. The group projects digital camera sales will grow 15 per cent annually over the next four years.

Canon emerged from 2003 as the top digital camera vendor, with about 26 per cent of the market, followed by Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Kodak. These combined held almost 75 per cent of the worldwide market.

The opportunities have prompted dozens of vendors such as HP to sell branded cameras built by contract manufacturers.

But intense competition and lower electronics component costs have relentlessly driven down prices - and margins - on digital cameras.

To offset falling margins, vendors such as HP and Kodak are packaging cameras with specialised photo printers, while others are pushing larger memory cards and expensive lithium ion battery packs.

Top manufacturers such as Nikon should benefit from its reputation for high-end optics. But analysts say the digital camera market can only support five or so vendors and many lesser brands could soon find themselves squeezed out.

Home printing is another huge opportunity created by the digital photography revolution. Leading the charge into home printing are Canon and HP, which have invested billions of dollars to develop high-end photo printers capable of generating stunningly rich and colourful prints.

Roughly 81 per cent of digital camera owners who printed photographs did so at home in 2003, according to IDC. The ink and photo paper needed to make home prints represent a huge profit pool for groups such as HP and Canon.

But a closer look at IDC's numbers shows that a growing number of digital camera owners are opting for retail printing outlets or online services that charge 29 cents for a 4x6 print, about half of what it costs to print on a HP printer.

Christopher Chute, analyst at IDC, says many technophobic consumers would rather let a retail service deal with the hassles of printing.

That is a view shared by Fujifilm, the Japanese camera and film manufacturer, which has bet aggressively on its retail printing strategy. Paul D'Andrea, a senior vice-president, argues that early digital camera users had little choice but to print at home.

But he says concern about the decline in film developing has prompted main film processors such as Wal-Mart, the giant retailer, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade to digital "mini-labs", a market in which Fujifilm controls a 70 per cent share.

"Printing at retail is going to blow past printing at home. The soccer mom wants to get it done cheaply and without a hassle," says Mr D'Andrea.

But as companies argue over printing strategies, there is still some debate about whether consumers will opt to print the bulk of their photos or simply store them on their computers.

To date, the biggest reason consumers have flocked to digital photography is so they can e-mail photos to relatives and friends. And because consumers can now peruse before printing, they have become highly selective about which photos to print.

Says IDC's Mr Chute: "There aren't many users who are printing all their photos any more. You have to ask whether there is enough print volume to sustain everyone out there. I don't think there is."
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