FreshMeat #6: Take Pictures, Last Longer!

FreshMeat #6 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

Serendipitous discovery of the customers marketing forgot

Over the past few months I have been attending a local
photo club, held in a small room in the City Hall of a
small Bay Area town. The group gathers about once a week
to share techniques and images.

I am by far the youngest member of the club. I would
put the next youngest person at about 20 years older
than I, and I’d put the average age at 30 years older.

This has made the whole experience interesting, and
very useful. My fellow club members not only have photos
that are 50 years old, they have 50 years of expertise
in taking photos. In a recent meeting, the discussion of
archival materials took on an interesting slant as each
of several men in their seventies dismissed the whole
notion with great bemusement. “Archival materials? But
I’m already archival!” joked one.

The pacing of the meetings is very gentle, and at
first I found that jarring, but I’m learning to ride
with it. As a newcomer to the club, I’ve had the chance
to do a microethnography of the meetings, and I’m going to
share a few of my findings here.

The club provides value to its members by providing a
forum for sharing consumer information: what products
to use (say, for mounting a print), where to find them
for a good price, and so on. A typical exchange might run
something like this (all names have been changed):

Bob: …so now you take the edge cutter here…
Gene: Say, Bob, where do you find a cutter like that?
Bob: What, now?
Gene: I was asking about the cutter.
Marion: Gene is asking about your cutter, Bob.
Bob: Oh, the cutter.
Hugh: You can pick ’em up at any photo store.
Bob: I ordered this one online.
Hugh: Or you can order ’em online.
Bob: Or you can get one at that store down towards…
Bob: Oh, I guess down near Belmont. What’s the place?
Gene: The place near the Safeway?
Bob: No, it’s by the store, there…
Marion: By the Safeway?
Bob: I say what, now?
Doug: By the Safeway?
Marion: By the Safeway?
Bob: …No, it’s down near Belmont.
Gene: Photo Paradise?
Marion: The Precious Frame?
Bob: No…down near Belmont, there, where Hap got his
press last month…
David: Oh, Linda’s place. The Darkened Room.
Bob: I say what, now?
Bob: That’s it. Down by Belmont, The Darkened Room.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not that much. But beyond my
gentle mocking is a great example of a social network
exchanging consumer information.

I am also fascinated by the level of computer knowledge
many of the individuals possess. There’s not a lot of web
surfing, or email usage. Club admin info is shared by
telephone, by snail mail, or by handing out photocopied
sheets at meetings. In fact, there is no way any of these
folks are going to be buying a digital camera. But the
computer is a tremendously important tool when it supports
and extends their existing photographic behaviors, namely
scanning and printing of images. Several club members have
invested a great deal of money in color printers, paper,
and ink. And remember, these are not the “grandmas” that
marketeers drool over, the one that will invest in anything
that might provide better connections to children and
grandchildren — these are photographers and artists. They
are wrestling with the technology to make it serve their

One woman came in and presented the results of a
benchmarking study she had done to get the truest black and
white image output. She built a matrix that varied the
paper (manufacturer, grade, matte/glossy), the printer,
the image source (slide, print, color, black & white), and
some software settings that affected the type of printing
being done (I think it was black ink or color ink). (Side
note: if you think the discussion about the store location
was crazy, you should have heard the discussion of how to
change the printing settings in Photoshop…) For each
cell in her matrix, she had a different printout, and we
could see the green shift, the blue shift, and so on. It
was quite excellent.

I’m not suggesting this is a huge market — my evidence is
purely anecdotal. It may not be cost-effective for the
manufacturers to better understand these customers, to
develop and market products especially for them. I don’t
know. But what is provocative is how easy it is for anyone
to stumble on a market that is clearly not well understood,
that absolutely flattens the beliefs about others that
marketers have foisted upon us, for better or worse.


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