Photo printing is booming again

During the past 15 or so years the photography  industry has faced a dramatic change. The introduction of affordable digital cameras and camera phones, cheaper and bigger image storage media, expansion of the internet access and easiness of image sharing in social media have exploded the number of photos we take, store and share.

The hundred years old film photography has rapidly faded out in less than ten years. Risto Sarvas and David Frohlich have studied how the the domestic photography has changed during the past 150 years. They noted that in 2010 Facebook members alone shared almost the same number of (digital) photos that what was globally taken (using film) 13 years earlier in 1997: well over 50 billion images. Only two years later in 2012 Facebook doubled the number of shared images to 300 million daily or over 100 billion per year. (This and other interesting statistics about the expansion of photography here).

The graph below shows how the share of analog photos of all photos taken has collapsed during 2000’s.

This digitalization has forced the photo printing industry into major business changes:

  • Online photo labs have taken a big part of the printing business from the walk-in photo shops and labs.
  • Photo and camera shops had to invest into new digi lab equipment if they were willing to continue in the printing business.
  • Easy-to-use self-service photo kiosks are popping up reducing the need for the over-the-counter personal service.
  • Photos can now be printed on all possible surfaces, not only on paper.

What do the statistics tell us about photo printing?

According to Statistics Finland, the revenue of the photo printing business in Finland shrunk from 80 million euro in 2001 to 30 million euro in 2009. But what happened after that: the printing business turned to growth path again. In 2012 the revenue was 50 million euro, growing now about 20% per year.

In the USA, according to IBISWorld, the online photo printing business has been growing constantly since 2003. That year the revenue was 190 million dollars. In 2012 it was 1860 million dollars. The forecast for 2017 is 3700 million dollars. (I don’t have the statistics for the whole US photo printing industry, but I think it is fair to believe, it has the same trend as in Finland.)


What can explain this growth? One simple and obvious reason is the explosion of the amount of images taken every moment. Though only a smaller and smaller fraction of the digital images we take will be printed, that fraction in terms of the absolute numbers is getting bigger. The prints are not only paper prints anymore, but all kind of mugs, shirts, books, fridge magnets, puzzles, travel neck pillows, bags, key chains …

Who can claim the photo printing business is dead?

About Olli Laasanen

Eyes and ears open. New and old. Jobs and hobbies. Pictures and music. Entertaining and serious. Change and stability. Nature and urban.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Finland, Photo, photography, USA, Valokuvaus and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Photo printing is booming again

  1. Interesting analysis. Long live prints (and film, too)!

    • I too was surprised when I saw the figures. There has been lot of claims that printing is dead, but that is not the case. – And I will never forget the smell of dark room …

  2. An interesting article Olli. I don’t think film will ever recover though – it’s more enthusiast now. Most people are content to share their photos on Facebook or print out themselves. You are correct about the gift market still being around although it is hardly inspirational like a good prolab could make you feel! Sadly most people are unable to discern a good print from a bad print these days…. “As long as it’s cheap” seems to be the current demand. Such a shame that so much talent was lost in the last ten years.

    • Alan, thanks for your good insight. (I hope everybody interested in this topic reads your blog as well.)

      I agree, film will continue to be marginal and mainly for the ‘hard core enthusiasts’. As you write in your blog, there is an interesting change going on: old negatives, slides and prints are getting a new life when those are digitized (I’m also in the middle of that process). That has created a new service business opportunity for labs and also a new profession, the personal photo organizers. Then this explosion of digital photography has changed the printing business into online mass market where price is the most visible competitive factor.

      I do still believe, that the labs concentrating on quality and superior customer service will find their customers. In other words: there are a growing number of photographers who like to be well served and who do not like the print quality compromised.

      It is about finding the most suitable lab for our different needs. Is it price, quality or something else which decides the ‘best’ lab service? Today this is not easy, because the comparison of the service is not possible in practice.

  3. It’s very surprising me because the trend is currently back to several years ago. Even though we can print all photos at home, but by sending some beautiful photos to online printing labs, it’s more beneficial in time, feature and results. I believe that the trend goes significant like a skyrocket in the next coming years.

    • Thanks Victoria for your comment.

      I recently got updated statistics from Finland. On consumer market there are three major trends: 1) Photo printing seems to grow, but that comes from printing on something else than on paper. ‘Traditional’ paper copies are less popular, but volumes of all kind of gift products and photo books are growing. 2) The online lab business is concentrating. The big labs are growing and small labs are suffering. There is a niche market for high street walk-in labs, but those need to cooperate to be able to offer all products we consumers request. 3) Price competition is fierce. We consumers are driven by price and ‘easiness’. Print quality is an issue only for a small fraction of enthusiast amateurs (and for pros, naturally).

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