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Business

Dead by Digital?

Digital photography is exerting more and more pressure on traditional celluloid film. Agfa, once a top film company, is finding out that if it does not conform, it will only become a niche player in the photo industry.

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The Agfa film company didn't recognize the digital trend

The stomachs of employees from AgfaPhoto must have turned a little uneasy when the EU Commission announced its latest initiative in June: "The Initiative i2010 should create new jobs in the IT-branch and in the media."

While the word "digital" does not appear directly in the initiative, the concept is certainly included as the world becomes more and more digitalized. Bits and bytes, software and hardware are now mainstays in most professional fields and in the photography industry it is no different. 2400 Agfa workers, mostly in Germany, have to wonder how much longer they will have a secure workplace.

One thing is certain: Agfa is bankrupt and creditors are now standing in line to receive payment.

Pressure growing

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The number of digital camera owners is expanding exponentially. In the year 2004 alone, the German Photo Industry Association (PIV) reported that 7 million of the 8.43 million cameras sold in Germany. In 2001 it was just 1.2 of 4.7 million.

The PIV is not commenting on supposed "victims of digitalization."

"There are differing reports," press spokeswoman Constanze Clauss said. "The photo industry has something for everybody. But the simple fact is that if a camera dealer does not sell any digital cameras, then he has lost touch with the times."

The numbers speak for themselves. The marketing research company IDC expects until 2008, the number of digital photos will increase 35 percent annually.

"Up to 80 percent of our sales are directly digital or somehow related with digital photography," said Harald Remsperger a camera dealer in Frankfurt am Main.

Pockets of resistance

Minox Kamera

Classic single reflex cameras work just as well

Not everyone is jumping on the digital bandwagon. Professional photographers, for example. Or the aficionados who are not satisfied with the mass-photo developing services online or that drug stores and supermarkets provide.

"Of course lots of small photo dealers have had to close shop, but those who have adapted to the new market are surviving," Remsperger said.

The transitional status from analog to digital also persists. Many households have both a digital and a camera in the traditional sense -- and use them. One market, the single use camera, is even expanding. Users bought 5.5 million disposable devices in 2004, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

Yet Agfa's core business, the sale of classic film to consumers, is dwindling quickly. In 2004, they suffered a loss in film sales of 18 percent over 2003.

No matter what happens in that branch, photographers want their prints, be them digital or analog on paper.

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"People want to have the tactile feeling of having a photo in their hands," said Rolf Hollander, chairman of the board of CeWe Color, Europe's largest film developer.

Hobby photographers who work with slides might like to digitalize them but that doesn't mean the old-fashioned slide should be tossed.

"Digitalize yes, but definitely keep the old slides and prints," PIV spokeswoman Clauss said. "Who doesn't know the story of a hard-drive crashing or a CD or DVD that no longer works?"

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