News and Rumors I'll Be Pondering

As I head off into self-enforced withdrawal from the Internet, there are a number of things that came up in the last week or two that I'll be pondering:

  • Serif—makers of Affinity Photo, a Photoshop clone—seems to have added themselves to the "we're going to to build something to compete with Lightroom crowd." Already we know that onOne and MacPhun are headed that direction. It seems that everyone is targeting the Adobe Photography Plan twins now (Photoshop and Lightroom). I'm all for the competition. But what's this going to do to your assets? Can multiple DAM (digital asset management) programs manage to live in harmony or shift your assets from one to the other usefully, or is chaos about to ensue? Meanwhile, not even Lightroom really has an understandable approach to living with Facebook, et.al. And what we really need are things that bridge us from the hardware in hand (camera) to the eyeballs we're trying to reach (generally on the Internet somewhere these days). No one's mastered that.

  • Micron has decided to discontinue the Lexar product business, which includes all sorts of cards, drives, and readers that we photography folk use. This is not good news in a number of ways. There's been a lot of consolidation in the storage business, and it is continuing, maybe even accelerating. Now that type of consolidation is being enhanced by consolidation with the photography industry. While Micron is exploring selling the Lexar business instead of just closing it down completely, the number of companies where there's no middle-man—and thus extra mark up—is down to a number I can count on one hand. XQD shooters, in particular, will be down to one viable brand, Sony. This isn't good for consumers, but maybe it will force the camera companies to revisit internal storage and better communication again, and do it right this time.

  • Light painting is getting banned in a number of places, particularly National Parks. I'm really on the fence about this one. It can be annoying to be somewhere that someone else is trying to paint, especially if they're going large (e.g. arches, climbing walls, etc.). On the other hand, it's essentially a low impact enjoyment of a national treasure. The problem with this type of thing is always the rolling stone aspect. Over time, we've seen more and more restrictions placed on photography, and we're getting closer and closer to the "please only use your handheld smartphone and only in designated shooting areas" level of enforcement. The Nanny State is getting more and more real. There has to be a better way to deal with light painting than just banning it. 

  • What's really happening at Ricoh? (I could have put a number of camera company names in that question, but Ricoh is the latest and most interesting where speculation is concerned at the moment.). The issue for Ricoh isn't in the camera business. The camera business is a low single digit percentage of the overall company in terms of sales at Ricoh. Ricoh, like Sony and Panasonic before it, is facing the same thing a lot of the Japanese tech companies have been facing: low to no growth prospects, lower ROI, and potential for spiraling into a negative cash/profit situation that brings on debt and compounds the issue. The solution is almost always the same: cut out unprofitable businesses, consolidate within the remaining businesses, emphasize profit and not market share, and look for an area you can expand it to start regrowing the business. It's that first bit that has us all pondering the fate of Pentax (and Ricoh cameras, too). While there's some synergy to their main business for Ricoh to own a camera and lens company, the risk is that it is low-hanging fruit to cut and remove costs by just jettisoning assets that aren't producing results. There's simply no prospect of the Ricoh/Pentax camera business managing 10% profit on sales, which is where I'll bet Ricoh's overall target is. 

    The bigger issue here is that it's long past time for most of the Japanese camera companies to look very, very deep into their souls and figure out either how they reinvent themselves or shut themselves down gracefully. Sony and Panasonic have recently had to do that and it's reinvigorated them, though I think they both need even more reinvention than they've achieved. Both still have vestigial appendages they probably need to remove. But Ricoh/Pentax? Is there viability there? 
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