5.07.2014

And while we're on the subject of economics and change..... Get ready to lose your film printers.


I walked into my local Costco today to pick up some prints I'd ordered online. They were all profiled with the latest profiles and they looked perfect. My wife sent me along to Costco with a small envelope that had three 35mm negatives that she also wanted printed. Costco had printed work for me in the past and had done a nice job. I smiled at the clerk and asked her if she would help me remember how to do a print order. She smiled that oh I'm sorry to tell you this smile and nicely told me that they no longer could actually print from negatives. No prints from film of any kind. None.

When I got back home I started doing a little research on line. Prints from negatives have fallen dramatically for mass marketers like Walmart and Costco. So much so that Costco has started designing a new generation of stores with no photo finishing departments at all. None. And many others are following suit.

But it doesn't stop with film. My quick research shows that overall print sales in consumer mass merchandizing stores, grocery stores and drug stores chains is down by as much as 40% year over year. The decline seems to match, in slope, the same relative decline that happened when digital imaging eclipsed film cameras. The slope is quicker than many expected.

My feeling is that we've hit another inflection point in our society's transformation from artifact collectors to digital information consumers. We want the  visceral delight of seeing our digital images immediately, on our little screens. We are no longer interested (as a cultural) in getting the little envelope of actual prints and looking at them and then storing them somewhere until they retire from our memories.

You will no doubt write to tell me, anecdotally, of all the people you know who crave physical prints to hang on walls and send to aging aunts and grandmothers but that may be because you are a selective and self-selected audience and not representative of the mainstream demographic for whom the machine print 4x6 was a ubiquitous (pre-digital) sharing medium. People with the ability to chose have chosen. Images are meant now to be enjoyed on screen. Not as shuffles through an envelope filled with paper prints.


25 comments:

Michael Matthews said...

One more reason to have the Epson V500 or its descendants.

Does it perform well for you with color film negatives? My level of skill is so shabby that I've had superb success with only Kodachrome slides and a couple of scanned positive prints. Color negatives seem bit problematic -- but, then, I don't have the chops required to see color in its film negative form and know whether the scanner is doing well or poorly.

Carlo Santin said...

Yes it's true, the print is going the way of film, only faster. I'm having a hell of a time finding anyone to process my 120 c-41. I think I can still get prints made from a negative at a local photo chain, but I might be wrong about that. This same chain used to sell their own print film until very recently (I think it was rebranded Fuji film but it was pretty good), it's no longer in any of their stores and it's gone for good.

Gato said...

Not long ago I passed a Walgreen's where the marquee advertised "Prints From Your Cell Phone." So they are trying.

With the people I photograph not only do most not care about prints, very few seem to want physical CDs anymore.

Being firmly out of step with the times, I have recent begun showing a small portfolio of fine pigment prints to my black and white portrait subjects. Feedback and comments have been great for my ego, but sales have been zero.

Brandon Scott said...

Take a look at Dwayne's Photo in Parsons Kansas http://www.dwaynesphoto.com/
They do great work.
But I agree with Kirk. I have done darkroom printing and worked hard to become a decent digital printer. But most of my work now ends up on my ipad. That is what folks want to see and it is easy and convenient. The print may become only an occasional thing.

Old Gray Roy said...

And so ... item by item, point by point, for we fossilized remnants of a film and print past, the photographic world descends into the abyss.

Jim said...

I'm a landscape photographer who makes prints for framing and even that market has fallen off badly. You are correct that 'information' has displaced 'artifacts'. People used to appreciate a good print for for its subject matter and as an object. Now almost all images are disposable data that gets a few seconds attention and is then discarded.

Anonymous said...

Anything which requires an attention span of more than 3 seconds is obsolete

Art in LA said...

I miss the days when I outsourced the final steps of my photographic journey -- taking that roll of film to Costco, ordering double prints, tossing out the bad snaps.

I enjoy picture taking and picture viewing the most, but sometimes I just dread downloading and editing my latest pics. I'd love to see a service that takes my SD card full of pictures, tosses the bad files, and edits the good images to my liking.

I've got an old Minolta Dimage film scanner to help with my legacy negs. I wonder if my local Costco still processes C-41 rolls? I need to check now ... sigh.

Anonymous said...

My local Costco, in SoCal. stopped processing 35mm C-41 in Nov 2013. They still make prints from digital files. So prints ain't going away completely.

BTW, photos on your iDevice look a lot better than those dog-eared prints in your wallet ;-)

Time marches on.

Noons said...

Hmmm... we lost all our local printing places about 6 years ago. Hard to find a single print-from-film shop in Sydney.
But film is alive and well, with a few places processing negative and slide film and even offering scanning services. I must admit I only use the colour processing part - I do my own scanning and b&w development.
But I do make a point of at least twice a year going out and splurging on BIG prints from some of my scans as well as from purely digital images.
I still prefer to look at a good print than a horribly colour balanced screen - and let's face it: 99% of computer screens out there are absolutely hopeless when it comes to dynamic range and colour balance!
Surprisingly, those who look at my prints also prefer them to the horrible stuff they see on screens.
However, of late I invested in a Samsung Galaxy 7" tablet to carry around my photos and its screen is nothing short of spectacular! Both for digital and scanned film images. I can see myself using that more and more...

Bill Danby said...

Grandma still wants the photos, the older aunts and uncles don't mind email attachments, but the younger crowd prefers Instagram, Facebook, or just showing their phone screens.

Prints still have a place, but few people want 20 8x10 prints, when the electronic photo frames provide slideshows with hundreds of images -- and no holes in the walls.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a printer; but I don't print "happy snaps" and I don't expect to make any money.

Bill Bresler said...

I pretty much knew it was all over when my 84 year old mother-in-law told me not to bother making prints of the grandkids. "Just load 'em on my tablet", said Grams...

John Krumm said...

I use The Dark Room in CA for film since only one store does it in town, and they do it poorly. But the cost with shipping is high enough to discourage much film snapping. Still, they do slide film, medium format, and will push or pull.

jlemile salvignol said...

Kirk, two major contributions, in French, about the background of this irreversible movement

Baudrillard:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiHpGAjA33E

Barthes:

http://www.idixa.net/Pixa/pagixa-0704171838.html

Anonymous said...

Moving to pictures on electric screens rather than passive prints is a trend, not a natural necessity.

As long as no one has come up with a reliable, practical and near perpetual energy source, the digital picture frame must be one of the silliest inventions ever.

But if/when people realise that the ever rising mountains of toxic waste consisting of mostly used batteries and discarded "smart" gadgets is generally not such a nice idea, (or after being nudged towards that conclusion by a big economic depression), the trend will start swinging back towards the other end of the pendulum.

The passive, permanent, energy and device independent artefacts become items of value once again.

The electronic-only commoditised images are even more vulnerable to obsolescence than the printed artefacts in the long run.
There is no guarantee whatsoever that the strings of bytes and the devices we have today are still readable and reproducible after fifty or seventy years. Our earliest digital file formats, let alone means of storage, are already becoming obsolete, in practical terms, only after 20 or so years. That doesn't even include things like major depressions, wars and other inevitable cataclysmic cycles that haven't stop spinning.

Jim Simmons said...

We are very fortunate to have a quality lab here in Wellington New Zealand that still soups E6, C41, in all formats, and makes any type of print you need. The prices keep climbing, and have gotten pretty bad, meaning it will cost me a fortune to shoot all the Astia and colour neg film in my freezer (120 and 4x5), but they are there for me. For now... And after that, I have a working perfectly Jobo ATL2 that's souping my B&W, but is ready for E6 if I need it. Getting the chemistry is no doubt the hard part.

Rory OT said...

I think we're currently living through a kind of black hole of images. People won't realise it for another 10 or 20 years, when their kids have grown up and they realise they have hardly any snaps of them when they were young.

All those images on their phones and facebook and everywhere else will disappear into the ether. Whether or not this will bring people around to the idea of printing again remains to be seen.

But leaving photographs aside, we're all living through a very immature internet period. I believe that people will eventually start living in the 'now' again, and realise that even more then religion, more than tv, the internet can be used to control or influence the masses. People need to and hopefully will realise that privacy is very important and that being able to live independently outside the ever connected online world is good for the soul.

On the flip side, I do enjoy being able to connect with a photographer living in Texas, on a different continent, with whom I will probably never meet :)

concretelight said...

I won't disagree with this one. I shoot some film for fun and and know a few others who do too. We all use 'Develop and Scan' services and review our work on a computer.

bpr said...

I won't disagree with this one. I shoot some film for fun and and know a few others who do too. We all use 'Develop and Scan' services and review our work on a computer.

Jeff said...

I remember reading about film and if you're getting a CD..., why is film needed. The one Wolf Camera in area sells a photo box for $50, which you fill it with photos (about 1100 guy said will fit) and they scan them and give you a CD/DVD.
I like using my F-1 now and then but, don't enjoy film's expense. It's $16 per roll for process, prints & CD. I haven't bought any color film since 2012 & not yet used it all (down to 1 roll VS100, 1 Kodak Gold 100). VS100 expired in Jan, Gold 100 has 1 month to go.
I haven't seen film processors at grocery & drug stores in Chicago area since 2010.

Anonymous said...

Here in the UK we're lucky that most high streets still have the ability to take your unprocessed film and give you back the negatives, a CD and some prints. Of course, the printes effectively come from digitally printing the scans on the CDs, and the scans are only done to sufficient quality for the prints ordered. That means 1200 dpi scans from 35mm film for 6*4 prints, and usually heaily over-sharpened. However, there are still a reasonable number of high quality labs that will do good scans and prints, and there are rumoured to be a small number of labs that will actually do optical prints!

However, if you already have the negatives, it gets expensive to get them scanned, so most film fans have scanners and do it themselves. Then it ends up being a digital print, either done at home, on the high street, or vua a quality lab.

Film is not dead!

Kirk Tuck said...

Um. Hey there guys. This post isn't about film going away and it really isn't about dedicated film lovers not being able to (somehow) get the prints they want from their film. It's about the mass market decline of places willing or able to print a machine print from a negative. It points to huge cultural trends.

In Austin one can still get just about any size print you want, from any size negative you happen to have from Precision Camera or from Holland Photo. My point is that the mainstream use of negative to film services is falling off the edge of the world and you can extrapolate your own theory of how this will impact specialists.

Anonymous said...

Unless you are an avid hobbyist it's probably best to get over it and admit that film is deader than a doornail.

Sam said...

It was nice when this stuff was mass market and it all could be outsourced. In fact, it was nice when all cheap home inkjets could do decent "photo" output and didn't burden you with an unwanted crappy scanner on top. But too bad. Time for the film shooters who haven't to learn how to process and scan at home. Colour negative is indeed a challenge but I'm in love with the results enough to educate myself.

Sam

Anonymous said...

"Um. Hey there guys. This post isn't about film going away. It points to huge cultural trends."

"We" did get it, Kirk. It is indeed another trend, whilst the basic behaviour of the masses remains more or less the same.

We sort of reached the other peak of the pendulum swing in the early/mid 90's when the masses would buy and shoot with a disposable camera, and then have it processed by one of many 1-hour photo services. They would then get a stack of small prints, along with the negatives.

From which only about half of the users would bother to make additional print orders, ever. The prints would often stay inside the pouch they were delivered in. Those palm sized prints would then become mostly forgotten and discarded willy-nilly within a decade or less, ignored in some sort of physical storage.

Instead of flocking into the 1-hour photo services, today the masses flock into big box stores selling cellphones. Again, with the photos taken being forgotten and discarded willy-nilly within a decade, probably much sooner, as they need very little physical storage.

In the early 90's finding a compact KISS photo lab inside a drug store or inside every mall was normal. Today, we can buy cellphones and p&s cameras in grocery stores and in every shopping mall supermarket.
So the (instant gratification) behaviour of the masses hasn't really changed all that much, only the technology offered to them has.

"My point is that the mainstream use of negative to film services is falling off the edge of the world and you can extrapolate your own theory of how this will impact specialists."

Back in the day the only specialists that benefited from the mainstream trends were those who served the instant gratification needs of the mainstream masses. Like those who specialised in fast film processing. Most of the mainstream masses aren't and weren't really that interested in the specialists to begin with.

In today's market, ever since the turn or the century or thereabouts, the one who controls the delivery chain controls the whole market.
Hence the triumphant rise of Amazon and other entities like them all over the world, and the demise of mom&pop stores creeping up to even bigger independent stores at increasing speed.

The negative impact of that process is hitting all specialists, not just the specialists within the photo industry. Some specialists may survive online, if their service is not too much tied to physical location, but many will struggle and fade away.

Meanwhile, the masses will carry on behaving pretty much the same way as always. The pendulum keeps on swinging between different technology trends, and the masses will carry on following the path of least resistance. That will include the mainstream stores like the Costco's, specialised in offering services to the mainstream masses only.