It was a classic Kodak moment: A photo of my father carrying my three-year-old daughter on his shoulders, framed by the colors of a New England autumn. Naturally, I had misplaced the negative. No matter. Standing in front of a new Kodak CopyPrint Station, I slipped my snapshot into something resembling a small photocopier. I pushed a few buttons on a touch screen, selecting two 5x7 prints. Five minutes later, the copies came out of a nearby thermal printer. To my untrained eye, they were nearly perfect duplicates.
Introduced in the U.S. in July, the CopyPrint is Eastman Kodak Co.'s boldest attempt to apply digital imaging technology
to amateur photography. And it's getting rave reviews. Atlanta-based Wolf Camera Inc. installed 70 of the $27,000 machines in its stores in early November. And consumers seem willing to pay a little extra for the instant gratification: An 8x10 CopyPrint enlargement retails for about $10, compared with $7 normally. "It's the biggest hit we've had in years," says President and CEO Charles R. Wolf. Most Wolf Camera stores have at least doubled enlargement sales, he says, and some have had a fivefold increase.
OFF THE SHELF. In the past, Kodak has tried to boost sales by encouraging people to take more pictures. But that ignored a vast, untapped market: the 98% of photos that are never copied or enlarged. The company hopes to change that by making it easier and more enjoyable for consumers to copy their photos and use them as gifts. It's also betting that the easier enlargement process could lead to more picture-taking--and to big sales of the special paper and dyes used in CopyPrint machines.
The idea for the CopyPrint station originated back in 1993, before the arrival of CEO George M.C. Fisher. Market research showed that many consumers don't make enlargements because they've lost their negatives, or they simply don't want the hassle of dropping off and picking up an enlargement order that can take days to fill.
Befitting the company's new flexibility under Fisher, managers moved quickly by buying off-the-shelf components to build the CopyPrint Station. The machine's scanner, which transforms a photo image into digital bits and bytes, is made by Epson. It also uses a Sun Sparc microprocessor and workstation to help manipulate the information. Kodak contributed a high-quality thermal printer and proprietary software to ensure true color
The new product was test-marketed in Perth, Australia, in early 1994. Results far exceeded expectations: The average shop nearly quadrupled its weekly enlargement business, to about 80 orders. Many were treasured family portraits being copied by people over 55 who had long ago lost the negatives. Kodak says several thousand machines will be installed around the world over the next couple of years but won't provide any detailed information.
One drawback is that the CopyPrint Station allows only limited manipulation of images, such as simple cropping. But Kodak began selling a $40,000 Digital Enhancement Station in November that has far more features. Intended for use behind the counter by photo retailers, the costlier product can correct flaws such as red-eye. And it can turn prints into gifts, such as greeting cards and mock magazine covers. Kodak promises more to come, including a $69,000 machine, due out in April, that will allow
consumers to do much of this
Nobody's more excited about the enlargement products than Fisher. "It's a striking example of how we can show consumers they can do a lot more with their pictures than shove them in the shoebox." In the process, Fisher wants to milk that Kodak moment as many times as possible.