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The rise of digital photography has pitched several distinct channels into direct conflict with one another and this raging battle shows no signs of abating anytime soon. The IT channel, the consumer electronics channel and the traditional photography channel are all jostling for position.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  February 27, 2006

The rise of digital photography has pitched several distinct channels into direct conflict with one another and this raging battle shows no signs of abating anytime soon. The IT channel, the consumer electronics channel and the traditional photography channel are all jostling for position.

At this year’s Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show — a major trade event for the photography industry — competition between exhibitors has been intense to say the least.

And you don’t have to dig too deep to realise why. The vendor that sells the consumer the capture device (the digital camera) stands a much stronger chance of eventually selling that customer a photo printer plus the related supplies and media as well. That’s why vendors such as HP, Panasonic and Samsung are all investing heavily in the digital camera arena to grab market share from the established names of the traditional photography world such as Canon and Nikon. In fairness, vendors such as Canon have already managed to successfully straddle the digital and traditional photography divide.

Let’s also note that consumers getting their hands on a digital camera will require a desktop or notebook PC to store and process their images on. This battle is being fought out in the retail channel with each vendor vying for shelf space and looking to create the perfect product set for consumers wanting a complete digital photography solution.

Dig even deeper and you start to see other trends that signify the increasing importance of digital photography to major vendors. There is a growing realisation in the market that not all consumers will actually want to print out their images at home. Some will instead prefer to visit a specialist outlet to have their digital images printed out in store and this has led to many new kiosk concepts entering the market.

HP is one such vendor, which has started making some serious noise about its in-store digital camera kiosks. A deal with Wal-Mart has been struck in the US and the vendor was actively courting major UK retailers at PMA as it looked to gain traction for its in-store kiosks against a number of major competitors.

Will HP kiosks hit the Middle East market soon? It’s looking unlikely, but HP has started exploring the feasibility of introducing the model in the region and begun explaining the concept to major retail partners in the region.

For consumers that don’t fancy printing their digital snaps at home or in store, there is a third option on the table. Dedicated websites, which allow consumers to store their pictures, edit them and order physical printouts for delivery have also started to make an impact in the digital photography arena. HP has made its move in this space too, acquiring US-based outfit Snapfish and European player Pixaco to develop its presence in this sector. At the end of the day, HP wants to make sure that it plays an active role, however consumers decided to print out their digital images.

For the consumer-focused IT channel, sales of digital capture devices and related products remains one of the most attractive growth opportunities for 2006. This is a market in a state of flux and one where major vendors from several different fields are working overtime to grab a significant market share. Those retailers (and retail distributors) that control a significant segment of the consumer base are in a strong position and need to carefully pick and choose the vendors that they decide to work with.

Which vendors will win out in the digital photography arena? It’s a tough call and the consensus at PMA was that the market will continue to polarise between the needs of the amateur snappers and those aiming to be that little bit more professional. A rash of vendor alliances (linking IT and traditional camera vendors) is currently shaping the market for digital SLR cameras and it is too early to identify a clear winner just yet.

For distributors and retailers, the main point is to be aware of the huge untapped opportunity that digital photography represents in the Middle East market. And that means looking beyond the initial sale of the capture device and realising that this is just the first transaction in what has the potential to be a long-term customer engagement focused on the sale of printing devices, supplies and media as well.

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