Getting your share of the digital printing pie

How big is this market going to be? That's one of the burning questions. To date, most digital camera users haven't been printing a high percentage of the photos they take. Industry surveys suggest that somewhere between 8% and 11% of digital pictures taken get printed.

I think that's wildly optimistic. Survey non-respondents aren't printing anywhere near those numbers. There are many reasons why, but the biggest is the lack of technical skill on the part of digicam users. Let's look at the history of digital cameras and see who's going to actually want prints:

In 1991 Kodak introduced the DCS-100, the first digital camera worthy of the name. Built on a Nikon F-3 chassis, it offered a 1-megapixel image, cost $30,000, and required the user to carry a "portable" hard drive slung over his shoulder. Even if all the buyers of that system printed hundreds of photos each day, it wouldn't amount to a hill of beans.

The second generation of digital camera users were entranced by the technology. Mostly male techno-geeks, they ran around at parties with Sony Mavicas, snapping photos and showing them to anybody who would stand still on the large monitor on the back of the camera. The novelty was the selling point, and the quality of the image was such that prints larger than 3R didn't look very good.

Generation 3 adopters had - and still have - sound business reasons for going to digital cameras. They are the realtors, appraisers, newsletter editors and web site publishers. Their pictures go directly to a web page, or get inserted into a publication. They don't need prints and they won't buy prints.

Fortunately the next batch of digital cameras are being sold to a different consumer - and this is the one we can expect to use the services of a digitally-enabled lab. The next digicam customer