The Economy: PMA Edition
It’s not surprising that because of the economic downturn PMA was smaller this year than previous years in terms of both attendance and lack of big announcements. There were no new D-SLR unveils from Nikon or Canon, though there were new hybrid, mid-range, interchangeable lens and point-and-shoot cameras announced by many. By simply walking the show floor, or even riding the nearly empty PMA shuttle over to the Las Vegas Convention Center, one could easily sense the drop in attendees, and though that isn’t to say that the show was entirely without impressive news from major players in the field, it was telling of the times. All this got me to thinking about the effect of the economy on the photo industry at large. The past few months have brought news of catastrophic worldwide job cuts at CE (Consumer Electronics) giants Sony and Panasonic, as well as the complete collapse, without warning or recovery assistance to clients, of online archiving service Digital Railroad. At PMA I began nosing my way into chats with the various camera manufacturers to get a feel for where they stand on releasing new products and the vision for the company’s future as a result of the state of the economy. There is a lot of optimism in the world of camera companies, which is good to hear, though frankly, expected from PR folks. Most companies seem to view the tough times as an opportunity for streamlining their visions for the future, and smaller companies see their larger competitors’ woes as an evening of the playing field, giving them a chance to jump into the consumer consciousness again with new products.
Pentax is one of those smaller companies who see their size and focus solely on imaging as being advantageous. According to Pentax Product Manager for Imaging Systems, Chris Pound, they are “in a better position to react” because they’re “running lean and mean” since they don’t have other CE products like televisions, such as companies like Samsung, to back them up. This forces them to maintain a clear vision for their company and keep focused momentum behind them to deliver on photographers’ needs, “not necessarily [integrating new] features because we can do it, but it’s what people want.” As far as Pentax’s Chris Pound and PR Manager Michelle Martin are concerned, there have not been any delays in developing and producing cameras in their point-and-shoot lineup. According to Martin, “Everyone’s pulling back” though in comparison still, “a lot of our competitors blow us away in the marketing area.”
Nikon is certainly one of those camera makers whose marketing dollars blow away Pentax, and they admit that their now year-old marketing campaign using Ashton Kutcher to promote the Coolpix lineup has been invaluable in changing the consumer attitude toward the company. Nikon Senior Technical Manager Lindsay Silverman brought up an interesting point in our chat—that he had initially been concerned that the Coolpix lineup would see decreased sales numbers due to the economic downturn. His logic was that he wasn’t worried about D-SLRs because professional photographers and photo enthusiasts would always buy their gear because it is their passion or even livelihood. However, if an average consumer has a point-and-shoot camera that works, even if it is not what they would ideally like to have, they might just hang onto it for the time being and spend that $250 on groceries. Silverman was glad, however, to report that his theory was disproved, as the Coolpix line is still doing strongly in the market.
Of course, Nikon’s direct competitors, such as Samsung, note that incidents like Ritz Camera filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, and the subsequent closure of a number of its retail stores—in which Nikon and Canon were among its largest unsecured creditors—”presents a lot of opportunities to the big CE brands, who now have the ability to push out some new product, like [Samsung’s] NX Series“, according to longtime Samsung PR rep Jason Ledder. According to Ledder, Samsung is “leveraging the success they’ve had with cell phones and LCDs” and have the goal of being “a Top Three imaging company by 2010 or 2011, and the NX is a really big step towards that.” Although Ledder admitted that there will surely be “some changes to come”, probably regarding shakeout, he remains optimistic and even excited because “Samsung has made so many claims so boldly in the past year about where they are going to be as a company.”
Olympus also remains optimistic about its current position in the camera market, and affirms that they are “forging ahead with new technologies” despite it being “a challenging time for everyone in the industry”, according to Olympus Digital SLR Product Manager Richard Pelkowski. When I asked him if they had been forced to delay any product releases, Pelkowski clarified that it was “on the contrary”, adding that “You will see great things coming from this company.”
For now, the collective attitude seems to be cautiously optimistic. Though, to add to the anxiety that some of the companies voiced, PMA 2010 will not be held in Las Vegas— rather it will be at the Anaheim Convention Center, a choice that I have to assume had less to do with the PMAI’s affinity for Southern California’s warm weather and more to do with an offer from Anaheim that they couldn’t refuse.