Industry Perspective: Closing in on the End of an Era
The other day I read an interesting piece by Associated Press writer Ben Dobbin who put the film era in perspective—from the turn of the 21st century when Americans bought close to a billion rolls of film, to 2011 when they’ll buy a mere 20 million (plus some 31 million single-use film cameras). Eastman Kodak marketed the first flexible roll film in 1888, and by 1999 more than 800 million rolls of film were sold in the U.S., according to data from the Photo Marketing Association (PMA).
The drop in film use over the past decade, however, has been precipitous—with the film market shrinking some 20 percent per year. PMA statistics indicate that domestic sales of film cameras have shrunk from almost 20 million in the year 2000, to 280,000 in 2009 and possibly less than 100,000 by the end of 2011. Rounding out the trend is the big decline in the variety of film stocks available and the continuing decline in processing.
As Bill Dobbin pointed out, film is now an elective at major photography schools. Therese Mulligan, Administrative Chairwoman of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, notes “Our entire first two year’s curriculum is digital in orientation. Those that follow a fine-art option are the first to gravitate to film,” she explained, “while other genres we teach—photojournalism, advertising or biomedical—have a stronger digital emphasis because of the industry itself.”
While Kodak and Fujifilm seem willing to produce a shrinking variety of films as long as there is sufficient demand, it’s clear that when the remaining film users feel the need for a new camera they typically make the transition to digital. In short, we are reaching the end of an era, and a great one it was.