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The New York Times reports this morning that more and more stores are eliminating their film developing services, bowing to reality as digital cameras increasingly dominate the marketplace.

One anecdote, as related by the Times:

“Fresh from a family vacation in California, Rick Wallerstein went to the Stop & Shop supermarket in Berkeley Heights, N.J., last month to drop off a roll of film, as he has done for about two decades.

“But a sign on the familiar drop-box next to the juice aisle informed him that because of the advent of digital photography, film would no longer be accepted at the store … When he returned to the store 10 days later, both the box and the sign were gone … Mr. Wallerstein had stumbled upon a trend that materialized not gradually, as many trends do, but instantly — like, well, an image on a digital camera.”

According to the story, Ahold-owned Stop & Shop eliminated film developing at all 300 of its stores on September 15, “is hardly the first and it will definitely not be the last to abandon film processing.”

While the story notes that “some 35,000 locations in the United States still develop film, mostly drugstores, supermarkets and discount retail stores, as well as photo specialty stores,” the decline of the service has been precipitous “since only people who buy film need to have it developed. Over the last four years, the sale of film has been dropping at a rate of 25 to 30 percent each year. In 2006, 204 million rolls were sold, a quarter of the 800 million sold at the peak in 1999.”

It doesn’t mean that stores aren’t in the photo business anymore – just that many are transitioning to services that specialize in the printing out, duplication and enlargement of digital photos.

Of course, there are other realities at work here, too. The Times reports: “As for Mr. Wallerstein and his roll of film, he let it languish at home for a couple of weeks, and finally took it to Wal-Mart. He had to go there anyway.”
KC's View:
Photo developing falls into the category of a service that people spent a ton of money on, and that now is vanishing, never to be seen again.

The lesson to be taken from this actually has nothing to do with pictures. Here are the questions I would ask, and that you ought to be asking yourselves…

• What other departments in my store, sooner or later, will be obsolete? (I think DVD rentals eventually will go the way of film developing – perhaps not as fast, but soon, as Internet downloads take over.)

• What departments/products/services do I not have in my store that will be absolutely necessary in just a few years?

Better to answer those questions now and get to work on the transition than to wait for the other guy to do it and achieve greater relevance to the shopper.

Yes, it will require change.

But, to use the Tom Peters phrase oft-quoted in this space, “If you don't like change, you’re really going to hate irrelevance.”